WASHINGTON (AP) — Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday the future of the Voting Rights Act is in “real jeopardy” following the Supreme Court’s decision striking down a portion of the law, telling a prominent organization of black women that Congress should act to preserve “fairness and equality” in the nation’s voting system.
The former secretary of state was feted with chants of “Run, Hillary, Run,” as she concluded her 30-minute remarks to nearly 14,000 members of the Delta Sigma Theta sorority, an historic black women’s organization celebrating its 100th anniversary.
Clinton, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said the Supreme Court’s decision “struck at the heart” of the landmark law and warned that it could undermine Americans’ most fundamental rights.
“Unless Congress acts, you know and I know, more obstacles are on their way,” Clinton said, walking freely on stage instead of delivering her speech from a podium. “They’re going to make it difficult for poor people, elderly people, working people, minority people to be able to do what we should take for granted.”
A divided Supreme Court threw out a key part of the landmark Voting Rights Act in June, stripping the government of its best way to prevent voting bias — the requirement that all or parts of 15 states with a history of discrimination in voting, mostly in the South, get Washington’s approval before changing the way they hold elections. The decision has been criticized by civil rights groups who contend it could undermine voting rights in upcoming elections.
“Now the law’s future is in real jeopardy and so are the rights of millions of Americans,” Clinton said.
Clinton made no mention of any future political plans, saying she intends to promote early childhood development, the rights of women and girls around the globe and economic development in her new role in her family’s presidential foundation. In a nod to the sea of women wearing crimson and cream, the organization’s colors, Clinton quipped that “in mathematics, delta means change. I think that’s pretty fitting.”
But her speech emphasized the importance of voting rights for black Americans, who supported Barack Obama in large numbers during their Democratic primary campaign in 2008 and in his re-election last year. Black voters have long supported her husband, President Bill Clinton, and would be a key voting bloc if the former first lady sought the presidency in 2016.
“I want to make sure that in the next election and the next election and the next and every one after that, people line up to vote and they vote regardless of those who may not want to count their vote or acknowledge their right to vote,” Mrs. Clinton said.
She cited her work with civil rights leader Dorothy Height, recalled attending a speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a young woman and noted the work of the late Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio, a prominent member of the sorority. Clinton said the issue of voting rights resonated after she attended a congressional hearing on the issue with Tubbs Jones in Cleveland following the 2004 elections.
“The idea that in the 21st century African-Americans would wait in line to vote for 10 hours while whites in an affluent precinct next door waited just 10 minutes, or African-Americans would receive fliers telling the wrong time and wrong day to exercise their constitutional rights,” Clinton said. “That is not the America we would expect or the America we would want for our children.”
Clinton opened her remarks by offering prayers for the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was killed last year, and “with every family who loves someone who is lost to violence.” She said the week’s developments brought “deep, painful heartache” to many Americans.
“No mother, no father, should ever have to fear for their child walking down a street in the United States of America,” Clinton said.
It was her first public comments on the case since George Zimmerman‘s acquittal in the Martin case. The Justice Department has said it’s considering whether federal prosecutors should file criminal civil rights charges after Zimmerman’s acquittal.
Obama met with members of the sorority in the Oval Office earlier in the day, including former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman and Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio.