AUSTIN -- The warm reception for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder inside the University of Texas' Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Museum was contrasted by a much chillier reception outside.
"I'm here today to protest the actions of Attorney General Eric Holder," Tea Party member John Bentley said before Holder arrived on campus Tuesday evening.
In a 20-minute speech followed by a sit-down conversation and questions submitted by audience members, Holder addressed the pitched battle over Texas redistricting maps which have come under fire by the United States Department of Justice.
"The department argued in court filings that proposed redistricting plans for both the state house and the Texas Congressional delegation are impermissable because the state has failed to show the absence of discrimination," said Holder.
At the heart of the matter is Section V of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires Texas and 15 other states with a legacy of voter discrimination to pre-clear any changes in election law with the Department of Justice. The section is the target of several lawsuits arguing against the constitutionality of Section V, with opponents claiming that the conditions it sought to remedy are no longer relevant.
"I wish this were the case," countered Holder. "The reality is that in jurisdictions across the country, both overt and subtle forms of discrimination remain all too common."
For an example, Holder said that Texas as a state added four million new residents -- many of them Hispanic -- in the latest census. As a result the state gained four new Congressional seats, but Holder claimed the new maps were drawn in such a way to make a Hispanic candidate winning any of those seats unlikely.
"This is precisely the kind of discrimination that Section V was intended to block," said Holder.
About 100 protesters gathered outside the library before Holder arrived. Many of them displayed signs and criticized Holder for objecting to the recently passed Texas law requiring voters to show some form of photo identification before being allowed to vote.
"We're not here to suppress anybody's vote," said protester Pam Joyce. "We just want to make sure that the people who are voting are legitimate voters. They're not dead people that are voting, that they're not Mickey Mouse voting."
Holder said the fraud argument doesn't work, and called the Texas law another example of a growing number of state laws aimed to limit Americans' rights to vote.
"In-person voting fraud is uncommon. We must be honest about this," said Holder.
Holder closed his speech with an appeal to audience members to encourage voter participation and seek to increase, rather than decrease, the amount of eligible voters who make it to the polls on election day.
Several of the protesters spoke out against Holder for the Justice Department's role in the "Fast and Furious" gun-walking scandal. The Attorney General did not broach the subject Tuesday night, nor was any reference to the scandal mentioned in the audience questions selected by the event host.