Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the Department of Justice is planning to expand voting rights, affirming the issue will be a priority in the Biden administration. The news comes as at least 14 Republican states have enacted laws to suppress voter participation in the wake of the 2020 election.
“There are many things that are open to debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them,” Garland said during a speech at the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.”
He continued, “But in recent years, the protections of federal voting rights law have been drastically weakened.” Garland is speaking about a 2013 Supreme Court Case, Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted the Voting Rights Act by eliminating preclearance protections. Those protections, Garland said, “had been the department’s most effective tool to protect voting rights over the past half-century.”
Without those protections, he added, “There has been a dramatic rise in legislative efforts that will make it harder for millions of citizens to cast a vote that counts.”
As part of the plan, the DOJ will double the number of “enforcement staff for protecting the right to vote” in its Civil Rights Division. Garland also said that the department will use existing laws to “ensure that we protect every qualified American seeking to participate in our democracy” in addition to “scrutinizing new laws that seek to curb voter access.”
“Where we see violations we will not hesitate to act,” Garland added.
Because of a rapid increase in violent threats against state and local election workers, Garland said the department “will investigate and promptly prosecute any violations of federal law.”
The DOJ will also collaborate with Congress to “provide necessary support” as Democrats try to pass the For the People Act, which would expand voting rights, add transparency requirements for dark money donations, restrict partisan gerrymandering and more. But moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin’s announcement that he will not support it without Republican buy-in, despite co-sponsoring the very same bill last session, has thrown a wrench in their plans.
Garland also encouraged Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which Manchin said he does support. But, Garland added, “We will not wait for that legislation to act.”