Following the Jan. 6 attack
on the United States Capitol
by people who believed former President Donald Trump
's lies about a stolen election
, Republican-led state legislatures across the country are enacting restrictive voting laws.
The Justice Department
wants the public to know that it is responding.
“Nearly two and a half centuries into our experiment of ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people,’ we have learned much about what supports a healthy democracy
,” Attorney General Merrick Garland
is set to say at a Friday event.
“We recognize that expanding the ability of all eligible citizens to vote is a critical pillar, which includes ensuring that all eligible voters
can vote; that all lawful votes
are 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.”
Garland will lay out the Justice Department's approach to voting rights
protection during the Biden administration
at the event.
The Biden administration has staffed the Justice Department's Civil Rights
Division with a roster of top officials with deep backgrounds in voting rights, including Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke
, who started her career in the division's voting section and has spent her career working on civil rights issues.
Pam Karlan, a longtime civil rights lawyer who played an important role in voting rights cases during the Obama administration, has also been promoted to a top position in the Civil Rights Division, where she now works under Clarke.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, a longtime civil rights advocate 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 led the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
during the Trump administration
, is in charge of the Civil Rights Division.
The Supreme Court
dealt a major blow to federal oversight of voting rights in 2013 when it narrowly struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that allowed the federal government to preclear changes to voting rights laws in states with a history of racist
voting laws. Chief Justice Roberts, who wrote the 5-4 majority opinion, contended that “things have changed dramatically” in the states with a history of racist voting laws.
In the nearly eight years since Roberts made that declaration, Republican-controlled states have been especially aggressive in tightening voting restrictions, citing mythical beliefs in widespread voter fraud that are unsupported by evidence.
Now, Trump continues to persuade millions of his supporters that the election was rigged, and Republican-controlled states are exploiting that belief to make it more difficult to vote in Democratic-leaning communities and easier for Republican legislators to overturn election results they don't like.
With Sen. Joe Manchin
refusing to assist Democrats
in overturning partisan Republican election laws that make voting more difficult, the Department of Justice and the courts are the last line of defense against these bills.
After losing the election, Trump falsely claimed corruption
in predominantly Black
counties that include major cities such as Atlanta
, and Philadelphia
. In a series of lawsuits filed after the election, Trump attempted to have votes cast in these predominantly Black communities thrown out so that he could be declared the winner.
are now targeting these same populations with laws to suppress votes and take away local control from predominantly Black and Latino
communities, hoping to prevent votes from being cast before the next election in places where Trump was unable to throw out votes after the last one.
Republican-controlled states have made it more difficult to cast mail and absentee ballots, reduced early voting
, prohibited local jurisdictions from enacting certain rules to make voting more accessible, and tightened voter identification laws. In some cases, such as Georgia
, Republicans have enabled partisan Republican legislators to seize control of local election administration from city and county officials.
The For The People Act
, introduced by Democrats, would repeal many of the state-level voter suppression
laws that were passed almost entirely on party-line votes by Republicans. The bill passed the House
and is still being considered in the Senate
, but Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) opposes it because no Republican supports it.
With Manchin refusing to assist Democrats in overturning partisan Republican election laws that make it more difficult to vote, the Department of Justice and the courts are the last line of defense against these bills; however, the courts are dominated by conservative judges
appointed by Republican presidents who, on the whole, oppose federal voting rights legislation and the enforcement of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
During the Trump administration, the Justice Department's voting rights portfolio was pretty anemic, with former officials saying the administration had abdicated its responsibility to enforce the Voting Rights Act. The administration highlighted some of its work on protecting the voting rights of military
voters, one of the few areas of voting rights law that Republican administrations focus on, but
Trump, after all, insisted that massive voter fraud was to blame for his loss of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton
in the 2016 election, and he advocated for additional voting restrictions that would disproportionately affect Democratic-leaning voters.