* Holder says enforcement is 'moral imperative'
* Appears in South Carolina ahead of Republican primary
By John Whitesides
COLUMBIA, S.C., Jan 16 (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney
General Eric Holder, appearing at a Martin Luther King holiday
rally in South Carolina, warned on Monday that voting rights
laws are still at risk and said aggressive enforcement of those
laws is "a moral imperative."
Weeks after his Justice Department blocked a South Carolina
voter identification law it said would make it harder for tens
of thousands of voters, mostly minorities, to cast a ballot,
Holder said the principle of electoral equality was still
"The reality is that - in jurisdictions across the country -
both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too
common," Holder, who is black, told hundreds of people attending
an annual rally to honor King, the slain civil rights leader, on
the steps of the South Carolina state capitol.
"Protecting the right to vote, ensuring meaningful access,
and combating discrimination must be viewed, not only as a legal
issue - but as a moral imperative," Holder said. "Ensuring that
every eligible citizen has the right to vote must become our
The South Carolina law required voters to show a
state-issued photo identification card to cast a ballot in an
election. Republican supporters said it would prevent voter
fraud, but Democratic critics argued it would make it harder for
those without driver's licenses, many of them poor and black, to
cast a ballot.
The Justice Department blocked the law after ruling it could
hinder the right to vote of tens of thousands of people. It
noted that just more than a third of the state's minorities who
are registered voters did not have a driver's license. The state
plans to fight the ruling in court.
South Carolina is one of six Republican-led states that
tightened their laws last year to require a photo ID. Two other
Republican-led states have similar laws in place, while 23 other
states require voters to produce some form of identification.
Under the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, South Carolina is
one of 16 largely Southern states that must seek approval from
the Justice Department or the federal courts for changes made to
state voting laws and boundaries for voting districts.
"This keystone of our voting rights laws is now being
challenged as unconstitutional by several jurisdictions," Holder
said, adding there was still work to be done to ensure voter
Holder was invited to the annual rally to honor King by the
state chapter of the civil rights group the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People.
South Carolina holds its Republican presidential primary on
Saturday. The Republican candidates have criticized the Justice
Department's ruling as an example of Washington's bureaucratic
intrusion on state rights under President Barack Obama.
(Editing by Eric Beech)
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