The Democratic Party’s No. 1 priority is to pass a voting “reform” bill that would federalize elections under rules favorable to Democratic candidates. It’s more important than infrastructure, or massive new social spending, or anything else, which is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer gave their election bill the designation H.R. 1 in the House and S.1 in the Senate.
The House passed H.R. 1 in a nearly straight party-line vote on March 3. Every single Republican voted against it, and every Democrat, with one exception (Rep. Bennie Thompson), voted for it. The problem for Democrats is that there is no chance S.1 will pass in the Senate, where Democrats do not hold a majority of seats. To pass S.1, Democrats would first have to eliminate the filibuster, and then muster all of their 50 senators to vote for the bill against 50 Republicans, and then call in Vice President Kamala Harris to break the tie. The short version: Not gonna happen.
That is where Attorney General Merrick Garland comes in. On June 11, Garland gathered the employees of the Justice Department to deliver a speech promising that the department will intervene in election procedures around the country, to do at least some of the work that Democrats are failing to accomplish on Capitol Hill.
Garland announced that in the next 30 days, he will “double the [Civil Rights Division’s] enforcement staff for protecting the right to vote.” The need for action is great, he explained, because Congress has not yet acted on S.1 and another Democratic voting measure, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. “We need Congress to pass S.1 and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act,” Garland said. “We will work with Congress to provide all necessary support as it considers federal legislation to protect voting rights.”
Then Garland continued: “We will not wait for that legislation to act.”
Garland talked about the history of the Justice Department’s actions concerning voting, from Reconstruction through Jim Crow through the civil rights movement and years of Voting Rights Act enforcement. His premise — entirely without basis — was that voting rights are under attack today in a manner reminiscent of the 1950s or 1960s. “There has been a dramatic rise in legislative efforts that will make it harder for millions of citizens to cast a vote that counts,” Garland said.
Garland’s speech was a collection of left-wing talking points, decrying new state laws and “abnormal post-election audit methodologies” in the wake of the 2020 election. “To meet the challenge of the current moment, we must rededicate the resources of the Department of Justice to a critical part of its original mission: enforcing federal law to protect the franchise of all voters,” he said.
What does all that mean? In light of the stalled Democratic effort to pass S.1, Garland is beefing up the Civil Rights Division enforcement staff to file questionable lawsuits in an effort to infringe on the states’ constitutional authority to run their own elections. On June 25, the department did just that, filing suit against Georgia to overturn the new voting procedure law. The lawsuit was an “obviously political stunt,” wrote National Review’s Dan McLaughlin, and “reads more like an op-ed in Mother Jones than a legal case.” Indeed, the lawsuit, and Garland’s speech, are somewhat more refined and generalized versions of President Biden’s irresponsible declaration that the Georgia voting law was “Jim Crow on steroids.”
The Georgia lawsuit is just part of a longer-term Justice Department strategy under President Biden. “I think Garland will use the added staff to attack state election reform bills under the Voting Rights Act, claiming they are discriminatory,” said Hans von Spakovsky, head of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the conservative Heritage Foundation and a former Federal Election Commission member and Justice Department official. “I think those claims are meritless, but they hope to bulldoze the states with the overwhelming resources the Justice Department can bring into such litigation.”
“Liberal advocacy groups have already filed numerous such lawsuits against these new laws,” von Spakovsky continued, “and Garland no doubt wants to add the heft of the Justice Department to these lawsuits to try to get these state laws knocked out by a friendly, liberal federal judge.”
In other words, the attorney general will do his part to further the Democratic agenda while Democrats on Capitol Hill struggle to pass an openly partisan voting bill. It’s just part of the politicization of the department under President Biden, involving some of the same Democrats who accused the Trump administration of politicizing the department. And one final note: At his confirmation hearing in February, Garland promised to “protect the independence of the department from partisan influence in law enforcement.”
Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.