Republican-led state legislatures across the country enact restrictive voting laws following the Jan.6 attack on the United States Capitol by people who believed former President Donald Trump’s lies about a stolen election.
The Justice Department wants the public to know they are fighting back.
To respond to the present moment, Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday that the Biden administration would “re-devote the resources of the Department of Justice to an essential part of its original mission: to enforce federal law to protect the right to vote for all eligible voters ”.
Due to the lack of preclearance of state election laws, Garland said the Justice Department will double the number of employees responsible for enforcing voting rights over the next 30 days. The department will also issue new guidance to states on how to comply with existing federal voting and civil rights laws for new election laws, redistribution and the conduct of post-election audits.
“There are a lot of things open to debate in America,” Garland said. “But the right to vote of all eligible citizens is not one of them. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which ultimately all other rights flow. “
Garland’s announcement didn’t include a lot of specific actions. Instead, he signaled that the Democrat-controlled Justice Department would use whatever powers it has available to protect voting rights in states as Republicans seek to make voting more difficult.
The Biden administration has endowed the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice with a team of senior officials with extensive voting rights experience. The Senate recently confirmed the Deputy Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division, Kristen Clarke, who she began in the division poll and has spent his career working on civil rights issues.
The administration also brought Pam Karlan, a longtime civil rights lawyer who played an important role in voting rights cases under the Obama administration, to a prominent position in the civil rights division, where she now serves under Clarke.
The Civil Rights Division is under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Vanita Gupta, a longtime civil rights activist who previously headed the Civil Rights Division under former President Barack Obama and who, like Clarke, was a prominent voice for voting rights when she headed the Leaders’ Conference on Civil and Human Rights during the Trump era.
With Senator Joe Manchin refusing to help Democrats overturn partisan Republican election laws making voting more difficult, the Justice Department and the courts are the last line of defense against these bills.
The Supreme Court dealt a blow to federal oversight of voting rights in 2013 when it narrowly struck down a critical provision in the Voting Rights Act that allowed the federal government to review changes to the voting rights laws. voting rights in states with a history of racist election laws for any discriminatory impact. Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the 5-4 Majority Opinion, said “things have changed dramatically” in the South since the VRA was signed in 1965.
In the eight years since Roberts made this statement, Republican-controlled states have been particularly aggressive in tightening voting restrictions, justifying their actions by highlighting mythical beliefs in mass voter fraud. which are not supported by any evidence.
Now Trump continues to convince millions of his supporters that the election was stolen, and Republican-led states are using this belief to make it harder for communities that tend to vote for the Democratic Party to vote and easier. for Republican lawmakers to overturn election results they don’t like.
Black voters are at the heart of Trump’s stolen election myth. After losing the election, he made baseless allegations of corruption in predominantly black counties that contain major cities like Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. In a series of lawsuits filed after the election, Trump attempted to have the votes cast in these black communities rejected so that he could be declared the winner. He did the same for the heavily Latino counties of Maricopa in Arizona and Clark in Nevada. All of his trials have failed.
Republicans are targeting these same populations with laws to suppress votes and take away local control from predominantly black and Latino communities. In places where Trump was unable to reject votes after the last election, the GOP hopes to prevent votes from ever being cast until the next ones.
Republican-led states have made postal and postal voting more difficult, reduced early voting, banned local jurisdictions from applying certain rules to make voting more accessible, and strengthened voter identification laws. In some cases, such as in Georgia, Republicans have allowed partisan Republican lawmakers to take control of local election administration from city and county officials ahead of the election.
Garland noted “the dramatic increase in legislative efforts that will make it harder for millions of citizens to vote who counts” after the 2013 Supreme Court ruling. Referring to audits that have arisen in several states based on the lies of Trump’s election fraud, Garland said that “some jurisdictions, based on disinformation, have used anomalous post-election audit methodologies that can jeopardize the integrity of the voting process and undermine the public. confidence in our democracy.
The Justice Department will now review these laws and post-election “audits” for any violations of federal election or civil rights law.
“We will use all existing provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act, and the Uniform and Overseas Absentee Voting Act.” to make sure we protect every qualified American seeking to participate in our democracy, ”Garland said.
Since the Supreme Court emptied the preclearance authority from the Voting Rights Act, Garland has noted that the Justice Department should start challenging every electoral law and rule again as it is introduced and enacted at the county or parish level. He noted that this practice had already been used by President John Kennedy and renowned Justice Department civil rights lawyer John Doar before the Voting Rights Act was passed.
Garland also noted that he would take action to address “the dramatic increase in threatening and violent threats against all kinds of national and local election officials, from top administrators to volunteer election officers.”
He said the ministry would pursue federal charges against anyone threatening election workers or administrators.
Democrats introduced federal legislation that would overturn many state-level Republican-backed voter suppression laws. The For The People Act was passed by the House and is still under consideration in the Senate, but Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) opposes the bill because no Republican supports it.
With Manchin refusing to help Democrats overturn partisan Republican election laws, making voting more difficult, the Justice Department and the courts are the last line of defense against these bills. The courts, however, are dominated by conservative justices appointed by Republican presidents who, by and large, oppose federal voting rights legislation and the application of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. .
Garland called on Congress to pass both the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act, the latter restoring the department’s preclearance authority. But its Friday announcement made it clear that the department would enforce voting rights laws currently in effect.
Progress in protecting voting rights – especially for black Americans and other people of color – has never been steady.
Attorney General Merrick Garland
The Justice Department’s voting rights portfolio was quite anemic under the Trump administration, with former officials claiming the administration had abdicated his responsibility to enforce the law on the right to vote. The administration has touted some of its work on protecting the voting rights of military voters – one of the few areas of voting rights law that Republican administrations are focusing on but have done little to do. thing to proactively protect voters’ rights more broadly.
Trump, after all, continued to insist that massive voter fraud was responsible for his loss of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. He supported additional restrictions on voting that would have an impact. disparate impact on Democratic-leaning voters.
Garland’s announcement signaled a dramatic change in the department with Trump’s departure. He detailed the history of the department, its attempts to defend black civil rights during Reconstruction, and the heated struggle for civic and voting rights over the next century and a half.
Efforts were made to protect and advance voting rights throughout this period, from the first Ku Klux Klan law to the enactment of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the passage of the Rights Act. in 1965.
“But progress in protecting voting rights, especially for black Americans and other people of color, has never been steady,” Garland said. “Times of expansion of voting rights have often been met with counter-efforts to curb the franchise.”
It ranged from the violent terrorism of the KKK that helped end Federal Reconstruction to the imposition of the Jim Crow laws that followed. Trump’s lies about voter fraud and his campaign to reject black votes is just the latest attempt to oppose the right to vote.
“We know that expanding the ability of all eligible citizens to vote is the central pillar,” Garland said. “This means ensuring that all eligible voters can vote; that all legitimate votes be counted; and that every voter has access to accurate information. The Department of Justice will never stop working to protect the democracy to which all Americans are entitled. “
Calling all HuffPost superfans!
Sign up to become a Founding Member and help shape the next chapter of HuffPost