Speaking to the Justice Department in honor of Black History Month yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder said that “we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.” When it comes to discussing race, he said, the U.S. is “essentially a nation of cowards.” He said that the Department has “a special responsibility,” and that as long as he is Attorney General, the Department “must — and will — lead the nation to the ‘new birth of freedom’ so long ago promised by our greatest President.”
Apparently, the notion that the DOJ might “lead the nation” in protecting and upholding justice greatly alarmed Fox News’ Megyn Kelly. Interviewing Juan Williams this morning, she declared that “addressing racial ills…strikes fear down the spines” of conservatives:
KELLY: He said they [the department] has a special responsibility in addressing racial ills. That — that strikes fear down the spines of many conservatives in this country, because they don’t want the Justice Department taking us back to the day when they get heavily involved in things like affirmative action, and things like voter registration rights. […]
WILLIAMS: What you will see I think is more aggressive enforcement in terms of existing civil rights laws. And that was the fear that the existing civil rights laws were not being enforced by the Bush justice department.
KELLY: Well a lot of people thought that the Bush Justice Department sort of got us back to the point where we were — we were being reasonable.
Part of conservatives’ “fear,” according to Kelly, is that Holder would change the DOJ’s focus on voting rights. “The Bush administration was all about voter fraud, some of the Democrats more about voter registration rights,” she said. She’s right: As former head of the DOJ’s Voting Rights section Joseph Rich detailed, under Bush the DOJ “notably shirked” its traditional duty of protecting minority voting rights:
It has notably shirked its legal responsibility to protect voting rights. From 2001 to 2006, no voting discrimination cases were brought on behalf of African American or Native American voters. U.S. attorneys were told instead to give priority to voter fraud cases, which, when coupled with the strong support for voter ID laws, indicated an intent to depress voter turnout in minority and poor communities.
Even after Bush’s DOJ made “voter fraud” a “top priority,” between October 2002 and September 2005, just 38 cases of voter fraud were prosecuted nationally — “and of those, 14 ended in dismissals or acquittals, 11 in guilty pleas, and 13 in convictions.” Yet, according to Kelly, diverting resources to a crime that exists only in the right wing’s imagination is entirely “reasonable.”