Vice President Joe Biden used Martin Luther King Jr. Day to launch an all-out attack on voter ID laws, which he implied were similar to poll taxes and literacy tests.
Vice President Joe Biden delivers the keynote address at the National Action Network's Annual King Day breakfast convened by the Rev. Al Sharpton in Washington, Jan. 20, 2014. (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
“This has been the ultimate fight because our opponents know the single most dangerous thing to give us is the right to vote,” Biden said Monday at a breakfast sponsored by Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network in Washington, D.C. "Now we're in a hail storm."
The vice president went on to rip into the U.S. Supreme Court for weakening the Voting Rights Act.
Biden told the Sharpton group they are doing “God's work” and praised both King and President Lyndon B. Johnson, who signed both the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act into law.
“Dr. King, if you remember, you all do, in 1965 wrote from a jail in Selma, he said voting is the foundation stone for political action. Ever since that year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been the mortar protecting and fortifying that foundation stone,” Biden said.
He said the 1964 bill was not enough in the area of voting.
“In the Civil Rights Act, bill, of 1964 introduced by President Kennedy and passed soon after his death contained some voting rights provisions, but they were limited in scope and effectiveness,” Biden said.
Thirty-four states have passed voter ID laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, out of a stated concern over voter fraud. Liberal groups have argued that such laws disproportionately affect minorities.
Biden said the Voting Rights Act must be protected “because those negative voices did not all disappear in America” before going on to criticize the Supreme Court.
The high court in June voted 5-4 to strike down provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that require states with a history of preventing blacks from voting to get approval from the U.S. Justice Department before changing election laws.
The case, Shelby County vs. Holder, came after the Justice Department took numerous actions to block state voter ID laws. The decision left in place bans on such things as literacy tests, but determined some of the four-decade old law is not applicable today, in which states were judged based on black voter turnout.
“The Supreme Court ruled that the heart of the voting rights act was no longer needed,” Biden said. “No longer needed? Despite a federal court had just declared a Texas voter ID law so harsh that it would impose strict unforgiving burdens on the poor.”
“No longer needed? Despite the fact that at least 90 similar bills were being considered in 33 states like the one in North Carolina, which imposed a new photo ID requirement, shortened early voting, eliminated same day registration for early voting,” Biden continued. “In Alabama a photo ID bill that passed in 2011 but was never implemented because of the Voting Rights Act and now is the law.”
One of Biden's most famous lines from the 2012 presidential campaign was also racially tinged, when he told a largely black audience that Republicans “want to put you all back in chains.”
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