Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Washington to strive to protect voting rights in a speech Monday afternoon in San Francisco.
In remarks to the American Bar Association, which was honoring her, Clinton warned against the damage she said could be wrought by the Supreme Court's recent ruling on the landmark Voting Rights Act.
"Citizens will be disenfranchised, victimized by the law instead of served by it," Clinton said. "That historical progress for a more perfect union will go backwards instead of forwards."
The ruling struck down the formula for determining which counties and states must get pre-clearance from the federal government before changing their voting rules. "By invalidating pre-clearance, the Supreme Court has shifted the burden back onto citizens alleging discrimination," Clinton said.
The American Bar Association was presenting Clinton with its ABA medal, which is its highest honor. ABA President Laurel Bellows said the group wanted to recognize Clinton for her law career, as well as her work helping to advance the careers of other women lawyers.
Clinton served as the chair of the ABA’s Commission on Women from 1987 to 1991. In her half-hour speech to the group, she encouraged attendees “to stand up against dictatorship, corruption and oppressions.”
"We're at our best when we live our ideals, including our devotion to democracy," Clinton said, urging Congress to pass new legislation and the Justice Department to beef up its enforcement of other components of the Voting Rights Act.
Clinton also decried a new spate of state-level voting restrictions nationwide, enacted in the wake of what she called a "phantom epidemic of voter ID fraud," and warned that much of the damage wrought by the Supreme Court could play out at a very local level.
Clinton's speech came hours after Attorney General Eric Holder delivered remarks to the lawyers group calling for an overhaul to the criminal justice system, particularly an end to mandatory minimum sentences for some drug-related crimes.
Missing from Clinton’s speech was any mention of her decision on whether she intends to run for president in 2016, although she did drop a hint or two that she was testing the waters.
Clinton said during the next few months she planned to travel around the United States to deliver speeches on everything from national security to U.S. global responsibility.
"She’s been pretty good about saying that’s a long time away and let me focus on resting and being out of government for awhile," said Corey Cook, a political professor at the University of San Francisco. "At the same time she does seem like she’s laying the groundwork for something."
Bellows said Clinton has been a trailblazer for women’s rights in a long career that’s taken her from law to education to politics.
"If I said to you, name the top three women in the world who have contributed to the law, to human rights, to the betterment of society, Hillary would be right up there with those names," said Bellows, who is the fifth woman to lead the powerful organization.
Bellows said didn’t want to speculate on whether Clinton should run for president. But then she paused, and allowed for a crooked smile.
"I’m a big fan of what she’s accomplished," Bellows said. "And I know she’s going places."