Remarks as Delivered
Good morning, I’m pleased to be joined by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, and Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Kristen Clarke.
I want to begin today, though, by expressing my condolences for the community in Surfside, Florida. I know how difficult it is for the families who have lost and for those who are waiting to hear. And I’ve expressed great gratitude for the first responders and for the others who were assisting in the ongoing rescue operation. I know that the federal government is providing assistance to the state and local governments, and we stand ready as things develop to provide more assistance if it is required.
The rights of all eligible citizens to vote are the central pillars of our democracy. They are the rights from which all other rights ultimately flow. Two weeks ago, I spoke about our country’s history of expanding the right to vote. I noted that our progress on protecting voting rights, especially for black Americans and people of color, has never been steady. Moments of voting rights expansion have often been met with counter efforts to curb the franchise.
Among other things, I expressed concern about the dramatic rise in state legislative actions that will make it harder for millions of citizens to cast a vote that counts.
I explained that the Justice Department is rededicating its resources to enforcing federal law and to protecting the franchise for all eligible voters. And I promised that we are scrutinizing new laws that seek to curb voter access and that where we see violations of federal law, we will act.
In keeping with that promise, today, the Department of Justice is suing the State of Georgia. Our complaint alleges that recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Several studies show that Georgia experienced record voter turnout and participation rates in the 2020 election cycle. Approximately two thirds of eligible voters in the state cast a ballot in the November election, just over the national average. This is cause for celebration.
But then, in March of 2021, Georgia’s legislature passed SB 202. Many of that law’s provisions make it harder for people to vote. The complaint alleges that the state enacted those restrictions with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.
In a few moments Assistant Attorney General Clarke will talk in more detail about this case, United States v. Georgia.
I want to thank the staff of the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Section for their hard work on this matter and for their everyday efforts to protect Americans’ voting rights. The critical nature of their work is the reason we are doubling the section’s enforcement staff.
This lawsuit is the first of many steps we are taking to ensure that all eligible voters can cast a vote, that all lawful votes are counted and that every voter has access to accurate information.
The Civil Rights Division continues to analyze other state laws that have been passed, and we are following the progress of legislative proposals under consideration in additional states. Where we believe the civil rights of Americans have been violated, we will not hesitate to act.
We will use all existing provisions of the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act to ensure that we protect every qualified American seeking to participate in our democracy.
Under the supervision of the Associate Attorney General, the Civil Rights Division is also taking proactive measures to help states understand federal law and best practices. We are in the process of developing guidance to help ensure that postelection audits comply with federal law, and we are working on guidance with respect to early voting and voting by mail.
And because the upcoming redistricting cycle may be the first since 1960 to proceed without the key preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act. We will publish new guidance to make clear the voting protections that apply to all jurisdictions as they redraw their electoral maps. These include maps used for congressional districts, state legislatures, county commissions, city councils, and more.
Pursuant to President Biden’s executive order, we are also working to ensure access to voter registration for eligible individuals in federal custody and will assist other federal agencies and expanding voter registration opportunities as permitted by law.
Finally, as I noted two weeks ago, we are seeing a dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats, ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers.
To address this effort to undermine our electoral process, today, the Deputy Attorney General will issue a directive to all federal prosecutors and the FBI, which will highlight the prevalence of these threats and instruct them to prioritize investigating these threats.
Today, we will also launch a task force, including personnel from the Criminal Division, the Civil Rights Division, the National Security Division, and the FBI to focus on these threats.
We will promptly prosecute any violations of federal law.
We are using every method at our disposal and our enforcement efforts, but that is not enough. We urge Congress to act to provide the Department with important authorities it needs to protect the voting rights of every American.
Eight years ago today, the Supreme Court issued the decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Prior to that decision, the Justice Department had an invaluable tool it could use to protect voters from discrimination, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
Under that section, any change with respect to voting in a covered jurisdiction could not be enforced unless the jurisdiction first proved to the Justice Department or to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that the proposed change did not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.
Using that tool, the Department prevented over 175 proposed election laws across Georgia from being implemented because they failed the statutory test. If Georgia had still been covered by Section 5, it is likely that SB 202 would never have taken effect. We urge Congress to restore this invaluable tool.
I will now turn the podium over to Kristen Clarke who will tell you more about our filing in United States v. Georgia.