Eric Holder, attorney general of the United States, speaks at a Feb. 7 reception for baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron in Washington.
Attorney General Eric Holder called on 11 states to repeal "counterproductive" laws that bar convicted felons from "the single most basic right of American citizenship-the right to vote."
In a speech Tuesday at Georgetown University law school, Holder used his bully pulpit to note that 5.8 million people are prohibited from voting because of current or former felony convictions, including 1-in-5 black adults in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia.
"By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes," he said.
Those laws, Holder said, disproportionately touch African Americans and have their roots in post-Civil War efforts to disenfranchise minorities, "based in exclusion, animus and fear."
In an unusual move, the attorney general nodded to former Virginia GOP Gov. Robert McDonnell, who made restoring rights to felons one of his top priorities. The U.S. Justice Department recently indicted McDonnell and his wife on public corruption charges.
It's not clear what if any influence Holder's call to arms will have on state officials. Twenty-three states have passed some incremental reforms and Holder pointed out Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul, who also supports restoring voter rights, is speaking later today at the criminal justice conference.