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Hillary Clinton rejoins political fray with criticism of voting laws

Hillary Clinton on voting rights in ABA speech 1:44

Hillary Clinton offered some of her sharpest political rhetoric since stepping down as secretary of state on Monday when she roundly criticized stricter voter ID laws and a recent Supreme Court decision striking down a central component of the Voting Rights Act.

Clinton, who is viewed as a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, decried a series of state laws enacted — often by Republicans — to tighten restrictions on who may vote in elections.

Clinton criticized a "sweeping effort to construct new obstacles to voting, often under cover of addressing a phantom epidemic of 'election fraud.'"

And she said that those laws have driven a disparity in access to the ballot, which Clinton claimed threatened to undermine the thrust of the Voting Rights Act, the historic, 1960s-era civil rights legislation.

"Now, not every obstacle is related to race, but anyone who says that racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention," she said.

Clinton later urged her former colleagues on Capitol Hill to fix "the hole opened up by the Supreme Court's ruling," warning otherwise that "historical progress toward a 'more perfect union' will go backward, not forward."

Her remarks at times resembled a formal policy address delivered by candidates for office — a tantalizing glimpse of the presidential campaign many Democrats hope Clinton will mount come the next election.

To improve access to voting, Clinton also encouraged the Justice Department to more rigorously enforce voting laws left on the books, and urged Congress to pass legislation to replace portions of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court this June. She also urged fellow lawyers, gathered for the American Bar Association's annual meeting in San Francisco, to step up their own efforts on behalf of voting rights.

She also endorsed legislation to make voting easier in a variety of ways, for instance by working to reduce waiting times at polling places, and address disparities in access to voting.

The speech was one of the most overtly political steps taken by Clinton in the six months since she left the Obama administration to return to private life.

Moreover, Clinton said today's speech was a first in a series of remarks she'd deliver this year; the former New York senator said she would address transparency of national security programs next month, and speak to global issues this autumn.

The speeches help lay the groundwork for and outline the rationale for a potential Clinton presidential candidacy in 2016. She spoke to the barriers many communities have faced throughout U.S. history — an oblique reference to the possibility that her own candidacy might shatter the glass ceiling for women seeking the presidency.

"Despite our founding principles and the many ways our Constitution protects individual liberties, we do — let's admit it — have a long history of shutting people out. African Americans, women, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities," she said.