By Andy Sullivan and Jan Wolfe
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday his Justice Department will aggressively enforce voting rights at a time when many Republican-led states are tightening election laws and supporters of the former president. Donald Trump continue to baselessly question his defeat in 2020.
Garland said the Justice Department will prosecute threats against election officials, double the number of prosecutors dedicated to voting rights, and closely examine how states conduct their elections.
He said the Justice Department will examine areas where black voters have to wait in line longer than white voters to cast their votes, a persistent problem in presidential election battle states like Georgia.
“There are many things that are open for debate in the United States, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them,” Garland said in a speech at the Justice Department.
Garland’s announcement marks a change in policy for the Justice Department, which under Trump dropped several ambitious voting rights lawsuits and filed just one case under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark civil rights law.
That law required states with a history of discrimination to obtain permission from the Justice Department before changing the way they conducted elections, until the Supreme Court struck down the provision in 2013. That led to an increase in changes in the laws. Republican-led southern states Voting rights advocates say they have disproportionately affected black and Hispanic voters.
Garland urged Congress to restore that power to the Justice Department, which he said was used to block more than 1,000 proposed changes in local elections between 1965 and 2006. Democrats, who control both houses of Congress, support the idea but not yet. They have introduced legislation about this year.
The attorney general also urged Congress to pass a separate voting rights bill that has stalled in the Senate, where Democrats lack the votes to push it through.
Following Trump’s defeat in 2020, Republicans have passed a wave of new voting requirements and limits this year in battle states like Georgia, Florida and Arizona. Texas is expected to pass similar restrictions in the coming months, despite objections from Democratic lawmakers.
Trump falsely claimed that his election was stolen through widespread election fraud.
A total of 14 US states have enacted new laws that make it difficult for Americans to vote, according to a recent report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
Garland did not make clear whether he would challenge any of those new laws in court. He said a Republican-led audit of the 2020 Arizona election could amount to voter intimidation, but did not say whether the Justice Department would intervene.
Voting rights advocates hailed Garland’s announcement as a welcome turnaround from the Trump administration, even though there were no promises of concrete action.
“Let’s see what the DOJ (Department of Justice) comes up with in the coming months – that’s the real test,” wrote Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, on Twitter.
Fusion Media or anyone involved with Fusion Media will not accept any responsibility for loss or damage as a result of reliance on information, including data, quotes, charts, and buy / sell signals contained on this website. Be fully informed about the risks and costs associated with trading the financial markets, it is one of the riskiest forms of investment possible.