“There are a lot of things that are open for debate in America, but the right to vote of all eligible citizens is not one of them,” he said. “The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.”
Garland described the turbulent history of the United States in expanding and enforcing voting rights, which he noted was also followed by periods of intense reaction.
Garland’s speech comes as voting rights legislation faces dire challenges in Congress given the Democrats’ simple majority in the House and Senate, as well as internal tensions between progressives and moderates over the Biden’s favorite expansion: the “For the People Act”.
This bill received the symbolically important designations HR 1 and S. 1, usually a demonstration of the top priority of majority leadership.
But Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) cemented his opposition to the measure last week in an op-ed published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail and subsequent media interviews, saying it would “divide us further” as nation. (He signaled his support for the narrower HR 4 named in honor of the late Democratic Representative John Lewis.)
Garland urged Congress to enact the two laws, an unlikely proposal, but added “we will not wait for this legislation to act.”
Manchin’s statement all but doomed the legislation in a 50-50 Senate and drew opprobrium from outspoken liberal Democrats, who are increasingly activated around voting rights issues as state lawmakers Republicans are imposing new election laws in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s loss to Biden.
Much of that attention has been focused on Texas – which is still pending – and Georgia, although other GOP-led states like Florida have pushed for new laws to be implemented that in l ‘together tighten up the voting rules with an emphasis on things like mail. in non-traditional voting and voting options such as 24/7 ballot boxes and drive-thru polling stations.
The Republican-led effort comes as Trump has refused to accept the legitimacy of his defeat to Biden and his staunch supporters have clung to various election-related conspiracy theories that seek to question the integrity of the contests from last year.
Garland expressed concern about the “dramatic increase in legislative efforts” to make it more difficult to vote, both in the wake of the 2013 Supreme Court ruling in Shelby v. Holder – which weakened key elements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act – and in recent months.
Garland said that “many of the changes are not calibrated to address the types of voter fraud that are alleged to be justified,” and said DOJ is reviewing them to determine if they violate federal law.
“Where we see violations, we will not hesitate to act,” he said.
Garland took a dim view of the post-election “audits” underway in Arizona and being considered in several other states that are “based on disinformation,” although he did not mention any state by name.
In early May, the Justice Department sent a letter to Arizona officials outlining several areas of concern about the legality of the effort there regarding ballot security and the risk of voter intimidation.