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Holder calls for restoring ex-cons’ voting rights

Posted at 2:31 PM, Feb 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-11 14:31:48-05

WASHINGTON (CNN) — One of Washington’s oddities of late is Attorney General Eric Holder’s liberal social justice goals finding unity with the tea party movement’s curb-big-government proposals led by Sens. Rand Paul and Mike Lee.

On Tuesday, the alliance is on display as Holder, for the first time as attorney general, calls for states to automatically restore voting rights to prisoners who are disenfranchised upon conviction. Paul, who supports voter ID laws Holder has sought to block, has pushed to overturn disenfranchisement laws that he says affect too many black men.

Holder, Paul and Lee are pushing to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system, seeking to discard mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes and reduce costly prison spending. The three are appearing Tuesday at a Georgetown Law School forum sponsored by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Eleven U.S. states restrict or completely deny voting rights to prisoners even after they’ve completed sentences, probation and parole. Florida, among the most restrictive, bars 10% of its population from voting as a result of such laws. About 5.8 million Americans are prohibited from voting because of current or previous felony convictions, Holder says.

The laws have a major impact on black voters, with nearly one in 13 black adults across the U.S. – it’s one in five in Florida, Virginia and Kentucky – unable to vote, Holder says.

“It is time to fundamentally rethink laws that permanently disenfranchise people who are no longer under federal or state supervision,” Holder was to say in prepared remarks. “These restrictions are not only unnecessary and unjust, they are also counterproductive. By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes.”

Holder has been busy in the past year working to build his legacy on civil rights issues. Beyond sentencing laws, he has pushed to restore the Justice Department’s voting rights oversight curtailed by the Supreme Court. He has become a gay rights hero by leading the effort to overturn the government’s stance on same-sex marriage. In recent days he called on memories of the historic black civil rights struggle to explain his moves to expand same-sex marriage benefits in federal legal matters.

After a tumultuous first four years in office, these moves could help boost the assessment of Holder’s tenure, which he has said he expects to last into later this year.