By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) – Attorney General Eric Holder promised Saturday to do all in his power to protect Americans’ right to vote.
Speaking at the annual conference of the National Council of La Raza in Las Vegas, he praised the group and encouraged it to keep holding politicians’ feet to the fire. La Raza is the largest national Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States.
“Despite the truth and transformative power of the American Dream and despite all the progress we’ve made over the last 236 years, our nation’s struggle to overcome injustice and eliminate disparities remains far from over,” Holder said, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.
Speaking on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department, which he helms, he said, “We’ll do everything in our power to stand vigilant against any and all measures that threaten to undermine the effectiveness and integrity of our elections systems — and to infringe on the single most important right of American citizenship: the right to vote.”
Holder is likely to make similar comments next week at the annual convention of the NAACP in Houston, Texas, where he is scheduled to speak.
Addressing the La Raza conference, the attorney general discussed how his department has responded over the last 18 months to proposed laws that could make it more difficult for some voters to cast ballots.
For example, the Justice Department in March blocked a controversial new Texas law requiring voters to present personal identification before going to the polls, saying it could have a discriminatory effect on Hispanics and other minorities.
Texas is among eight states to require official photo identification in an effort to stop what officials say is voter fraud. Opponents of the laws say they disenfranchise poor, minority and disabled voters.
A similar voter ID law in South Carolina was blocked by the Obama administration in December.
Texas and South Carolina then had the option of asking a federal court in the nation’s capital to review the laws, and allow them to be enforced this election year.
A trial is scheduled to start Monday in Washington before a three-judge federal court on the proposed Texas ID law.
“In each of the jurisdictions where proposed changes can be shown to have no discriminatory purpose or effect, we’ll follow the law and approve the change. Where jurisdictions cannot meet this threshold, we will object — under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other laws — in order to guarantee that all eligible citizens have unrestricted access to the ballot box,” said Holder.
The landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 gives the federal government the power to oversee any changes in voting procedures in states and jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination.
Toward the beginning of his speech in Las Vegas, the attorney general joked that it was nice to be “outside of Washington,” a possible reference to the pressure he’s been under there because of Fast and Furious — a discredited gun-running operation that has become a sharp point of contention between Democrats and Republicans.
The House of Representatives voted last week to hold Holder in contempt for refusing to turn over documents tied to the program. President Barack Obama has asserted executive privilege in the case, and Holder will not face criminal prosecution.