Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Friday tabled a detailed plan to protect voting rights, announcing that the Department of Justice would redouble its enforcement staff on the matter, review and act on new laws aimed at restricting voter access and take action take action if it detects a violation of federal law.
Mr. Garland announced his plan as Republican-led state lawmakers push for new restrictive electoral laws and amid dwindling opportunities for comprehensive state voter protection laws introduced by the Democrats.
“To meet the challenge of the current moment, we must devote the Justice Department’s resources to a critical part of its original mission: enforcing federal laws protecting the right to vote for all eligible voters,” Garland said in an address to the department.
The Justice Department will also review current laws and practices to see if they discriminate against non-white voters, he said. It was not clear how many people were working to enforce voting rights and what the total would be after the department added staff.
At least 22 new laws making voting harder have been passed in more than a dozen states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a progressive public policy institute that is part of the New York University School of Law.
Mr Garland also said the department oversees the use of unorthodox by-election checks that could undermine confidence in the country’s ability to hold free and fair elections, adding that some jurisdictions have used disinformation to justify such checks.
“Much of the reasoning given in support of these by-election reviews and electoral restrictions was based on allegations of material fraud in the 2020 elections that have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, both this and the previous government, as well as any court – federal and state – which it took into account, ”Garland said.
The ministry’s civil rights division has sent a letter expressing concerns that any of these reviews may have violated the civil rights law, Garland said, in part because it could violate a provision of the law that prohibits voter intimidation . He didn’t state which state, but in Arizona, a week-long exam is widely viewed as a partisan exercise to cultivate complaints about Donald J. Trump’s electoral defeat.
The Department of Justice will publish guidelines explaining the civil and criminal law provisions that apply to by-election reviews, guidelines on early voting and voting by post, and will work with other agencies to combat disinformation.
Democrats have sued over some new electoral laws, but this lawsuit could take years to resolve and may have little power to prevent those laws from affecting the upcoming elections.
Two major federal election laws – the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act – are also the subject of heated debates in Congress.
Earlier this week, West Virginia Democrat Senator Joe Manchin III said he would speak out against the For the People Act, which dashed hopes among progressives that the sweeping anti-voter suppression bill would become law.
Mr. Garland has said protecting the right to vote is one of his top priorities as the attorney general, and his top lieutenants include high profile proxy attorneys like Vanita Gupta, the No. 3 ministry, and Kristen Clarke, the civil rights director.
Ms. Clarke’s long career as a vocal protection attorney – including with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the New York Attorney General, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – will make her a key player in the Justice Department’s work to improve access to To receive voting.
That work is made more difficult, however, by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down portions of the electoral law that forced states with a legacy of racial discrimination to obtain the approval of the Department of Justice before they could change their electoral laws.