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Attorney General Merrick Garland. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Pool via Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Friday announced the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division will double the number of enforcement staff dedicated to protecting the right to vote in the next 30 days.

Why it matters: After an election fraught with baseless claims of fraud and a recent flurry of voter restriction bills in state legislatures, Garland underscored his dedication to protecting voting rights. He said the DOJ will "do everything in its power to prevent election fraud, and if found to vigorously prosecute" but will also scrutinize "new laws that seek to curb voter access."

  • "There are many things that are open to debate in America, but the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them," Garland said in his speech. "The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. The right from which all other rights, ultimately flow."
  • Garland criticized some post-election audits, saying they have relied on "assertions of material vote fraud in the 2020 election that have been refuted by law enforcement and intelligence agencies."
  • He said the DOJ has “not been blind” to the rise in threats toward election workers, saying it undermines “our electoral process, and violate a myriad of federal laws.”
  • He said the criminal section of the Civil Rights Division will work to investigate and prosecute when federal laws have been violated.

What to watch: Garland said that Justice officials are looking at practices that discriminate against voters of color, including specifically jurisdictions where non-white voters wait in line longer than white voters to cast their ballot.

  • The agency will publish guidance explaining post-election audits and on early and mail-in voting.
  • Garland said agency officials will work with Congress on federal legislation to protect voting rights. "We need Congress to pass S-1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would provide the department with the tools it needs," he said.

The big picture: Republicans have floated hundreds of restrictive voting bills in state legislatures this year, and at least 22 have been enacted, according to the Brennan Center.

  • Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has all but dashed Democrats' hopes of passing the For the People Act, a sweeping election reform bill.
  • Biden earlier this month tapped Vice President Harris to lead the administration's push to protect voting rights.

This all comes ahead of the decennial redistricting process, where district lines are redrawn based on new Census counts.

  • A study found that one-in-two states are at risk of gerrymandering, or having lines drawn to favor one political party.
  • It will be the first time in decades that certain states will not be required to get their maps pre-cleared by the Justice Department, due to a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Under the same pre-clearance requirement no longer in effect, DOJ objected to more than 1,000 state voting changes between 1965 and 2006, Garland said.

Go deeper

Jun 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Garland to promise voting-rights fight in major policy speech

Attorney General Merrick Garland arrives at a Senate hearing Wednesday. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Pool via Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland will give a policy address on voting rights at 2 p.m., promising "concrete steps ... to secure the fundamental right to vote for all Americans," the Justice Department says.

Why it matters: President Biden said last week that he's prioritizing fights for federal voting-rights protection, as Republicans in legislatures across the country pass their own election laws. Democrats' efforts were set back Sunday when Sen. Joe Manchin said he wouldn't support a centerpiece bill passed by the House.

DOJ says it can defend exemption to anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws for religious schools

Photo: John Lamparski/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Justice Department said in a court filing this week it is capable of defending an exemption in federal law allowing federally-funded religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students.

Why it matters: The DOJ is beholden to defending federal laws, but the filing, which initially said the department could "vigorously" defend the exemption, angered some LGBTQ advocates who said it conflicted with the Biden administration's pledge to protect LGBTQ rights.

Jun 10, 2021 - World

Netanyahu rejects Trump comparisons, pledges peaceful transition of power

Netanyahu (L) with Trump. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party rejected on Thursday the comparisons being made in the U.S. between his efforts to block a transition of power and those of former President Trump after the November 2020 presidential election.

Why it matters: On the verge of being replaced after 12 years in power, Netanyahu has been working to delegitimize the incoming government and accusing its leaders of perpetrating “the fraud of the century." But Likud tweeted on Thursday that Netanyahu wasn't challenging the vote count and was committed to a peaceful transition.