In response to the weakening of the Federal Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013, Attorney General Merrick Garland pledged to expand the Department of Justice’s efforts to protect voting rights, announcing a series actions aimed at confronting the efforts of states and locals, which he declared “will make voting more difficult”.
“We are reviewing new laws that seek to restrict voter access, and when we see violations of federal law, we will not hesitate to act,” Garland said in a Justice Department speech on Friday. . “We are also reviewing current laws and practices to determine whether they discriminate against black voters and other voters of color.”
As more than a dozen states have passed new laws making voting more difficult, Garland pointed to some jurisdictions that, “on the basis of misinformation, have used anomalous post-election audit methodologies that can jeopardize the integrity of the voting process and undermine the public. confidence in our democracy.
To counter this, he said the Justice Department would increase the size of the enforcement unit that tracks state and local efforts to enact voter restrictions and pledged to prosecute those responsible for the increase. violent threats against election workers.
Over the next 30 days, the department will double the law enforcement staff in the Civil Rights Division. The addition of lawyers and additional resources comes in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, which saw an increase in threats targeting election officials and local and local election officials and growing misinformation regarding access to the ballot box .
Garland vowed the department would “promptly investigate and prosecute” any threat that violates federal law, and pledged to partner with other federal agencies to tackle election misinformation, which he said, ” intentionally tries to suppress the vote ”.
There are currently several Republican-led states considering legislation that would add limits on voting access following President Trump’s electoral loss and an increase in postal voting in the 2020 election due to the coronavirus pandemic. In mid-May, state lawmakers enacted at least 22 bills with restrictive voting provisions in 14 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
Congress is reviewing two important voting rights laws, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, named after the late Congressman and civil rights icon. At the end of the month, the Senate will consider the For the People Act, a broad but controversial bill on voting and electoral reform, but it is expected to be blocked by Republicans who argue it is a federal overrun.
The House is currently working on the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or HR 4, which has yet to be introduced. The bill would reinstate a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.
The Voting Rights Act established a formula for determining the areas to be covered by Article 5, which required jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination to submit any changes to voting laws to the Ministry of Justice or to a panel of federal judges for approval, a practice known as preclearance. But the Supreme Court struck down the formula in Shelby County v. Holder in a 5 to 4 decision on ideological lines.
The House subcommittee that oversees the federal election is currently conducting field hearings to gather evidence on the existence of racial discrimination in voting in some jurisdictions and create a new formula. Once these hearings are completed, the bill will be drafted and considered later this year.
But, like the For the People Act, John Lewis’s Advancement of Voting Rights Act faces significant opposition from Republicans in the Senate and faces an uphill battle to pass.
NAACP Chairman Derrick Johnson welcomed Garland’s announcement in a statement Friday, but said it was “a race against time” to protect voting rights as state laws more restrictive voting rights are implemented.
“From the appointment of Kristen Clarke (to lead the civil rights division) to the ongoing struggle to pass the For The People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, we are heartened by the new tone on fixed voting rights. by the Biden-Harris Administration, ”Johnson said.“ But the uphill battle to protect our most sacred and basic right, the right to vote, is far from over. Today’s announcement by the Attorney General demonstrates the level of urgency needed to protect our democracy and ensure our voices are heard. “