Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandBiden: Comment that DOJ should prosecute those who defy subpoenas 'not appropriate' House votes to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress Garland defends school board memo from GOP 'snitch line' attacks MORE is calling on Congress to act swiftly on voting rights legislation as the nation marks the 56th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
“Our society is shaped not only by the rights it declares but also by its willingness to protect and enforce those rights. Nowhere is this clearer than in the area of voting rights,” Garland said in a Thursday op-ed published in The Washington Post.
He emphasized the fact that the Voting Rights Act helped stop states and localities from trying to adopt thousands of discriminatory rules that could have stripped millions of Americans of their rights.
He pointed in particular to the legislation’s “preclearance” clause, which forced areas that had a history of implementing discriminatory policies with regards to voting rights to prove that new proposed legislation was not racially discriminatory. The clause was severely undercut by a 2013 Supreme Court decision.
“Without that authority, the Justice Department has been unable to stop discriminatory practices before they occur. Instead, the Justice Department has been left with costly, time-consuming tools that have many of the shortcomings that plagued federal law prior to 1965,” Garland said.
"Notwithstanding these setbacks, the Justice Department is using all its current legal authorities to combat a new wave of restrictive voting laws. But if the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provision were still operative, many of those laws would likely not have taken effect in the first place," he added.
More than once, the attorney general mentioned the late Rep. John LewisJohn Lewis Biden, Harris mark 10th anniversary of MLK memorial Democrats look for plan B on filibuster Senate will vote on John Lewis voting bill as soon as next week MORE (D-Ga.), after whom Democrats have named one of two pieces of legislation that are meant to protect voting rights and have the support of the White House: the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
"Lewis recalled an important lesson taught by Martin Luther King Jr.: 'Each of us has a moral obligation to stand up, speak up and speak out. When you see something that is not right, you must say something. You must do something,'" he said.
Garland’s comments come as a growing number of states have enacted new legislation that restricts access to the ballot box in the wake of the 2020 election.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, between Jan. 1 and July 14, 30 laws have been passed in 18 states that curb voting access, including more stringent ID requirements and making mail-in and early voting more difficult.
In June, Garland's Justice Department filed suit against one such state, Georgia, alleging "that recent changes to Georgia's election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote."
Several Democratic senators, including Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharGOP blocks Senate Democrats' revised elections bill Progressives push back on decision to shrink Biden's paid family leave program The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - Biden holds meetings to resurrect his spending plan MORE (Minn.) Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockSenate Democrats call for diversity among new Federal Reserve Bank presidents On The Money — Democrats eye tough choices as deadline looms Warnock pushes Medicaid expansion as equity issue amid Democrats' health care battle MORE (Ga.) and Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBiden: Negotiating assault weapons ban more difficult than infrastructure, reconciliation deal Biden says expanding Medicare to include hearing, dental and vision a 'reach' Biden says paid leave proposal reduced from 12 to 4 weeks MORE (W.Va.), are working to negotiate a scaled-back voting rights bill ahead of a self-imposed August deadline.
Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSchumer endorses democratic socialist India Walton in Buffalo mayor's race Guns Down America's leader says Biden 'has simply not done enough' on gun control The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Altria - Manchin heatedly dismisses rumors of leaving Democratic Party MORE (D-N.Y.) has left the door open to forcing a vote on the new measure before the chamber leaves for recess in August, according to Democratic senators. However, it’s likely to see the same fate as the For the People Act, which cleared the Democratic-controlled House in March but has been blocked by Republicans in the Senate.
"On this anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we must say again that it is not right to erect barriers that make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to vote. And it is time for Congress to act again to protect that fundamental right," Garland said.
—Jordain Carney contributed.