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Obama: Justice Department Must Fire Voting Rights Official PDF  | Print |  Email
By Senator Barack Obama Press Release   
October 19, 2007

Comments about minority voters offensive, dangerous


U.S. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) today sent the following letter to Acting Attorney General Peter D. Keisler calling on him to immediately replace John Tanner, the chief of the voting rights section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, for offensive and erroneous comments he made about minorities

On October 5, 2007, Tanner argued that photo identification requirements for voting cause problems for the elderly. However, he argued that such requirements do not disenfranchise minority voters because "Our society is such that minorities don't become elderly the way white people do; they die first." Video of Tanner's comments are here.

Earlier this week, Obama called on Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey to address how he would reverse the Bush Administration's failure to enforce civil rights, for example, in the cases of the Jena 6 and the Georgia voter photo identification requirement. A copy of that letter is here .


Senator Obama has been working in the Senate to pass legislation he authored to protect voting rights and prevent deceptive and intimidating practices, and has been an outspoken critic of onerous photo identification requirements that disproportionately disenfranchise poor, minority, and disabled voters.

The text of Obama's letter is below:

    October 19, 2007

    The Honorable Peter D. Keisler
    Acting Attorney General
    Department of Justice
    950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
    Washington, DC 20530-0001

    Dear Mr. Keisler:

    On October 5, 2007, at the National Latino Congreso in Los Angeles, John Tanner, the chief of the voting rights section of the Civil Rights Division, spoke on a panel regarding minority voters. During the course of that discussion, which focused on recent state laws requiring photo identification for voting, Mr. Tanner said that such photo ID requirements disadvantage the elderly "[a]nd that's a shame." He explained: "You know, creating problems for elderly persons just is not good under any circumstance."


    However, according to Mr. Tanner, such requirements do not disenfranchise minorities, and in fact, they actually benefit minorities. He said: "Our society is such that minorities don't become elderly the way white people do; they die first. There are inequities in health care. There are a variety of inequities in this country. And so anything that disproportionately impacts the elderly has the opposite impact on minorities; just the math is such as that."


    Such comments are patently erroneous, offensive, and dangerous, and they are especially troubling coming from the federal official charged with protecting voting rights in this country. Mr. Tanner has already demonstrated questionable judgment in overruling the decision of Justice Department lawyers that the Georgia photo ID requirement would disproportionately discriminate against African Americans. For Mr. Tanner to now suggest, in an effort to defend his erroneous decision, that photo identification are not necessary for minority voters because "they die first" shows just how far the Justice Department has fallen. This is a disgrace and yet another reason why the next Attorney General must demonstrate a strong commitment to civil rights.


    But, until the next Attorney General is confirmed, you are in charge of the Department, and you are in charge of ensuring that our laws are enforced and that the civil rights of all Americans are protected. Through his inexcusable comments, Mr. Tanner has clearly demonstrated that he possesses neither the character nor the judgment to be heading the Voting Rights Section. For that reason, I respectfully request that you remove him from his position.




    Barack Obama
    United States Senator

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