Attorney General Merrick Garland wants $209 million from Congress for the U.S. Department of Justice to continue its Civil Rights work. He argued that the agency must do more to protect voting rights, support community policing and put an end to hate crimes against Asian Americans among other priorities.
“From protecting voting rights to prosecuting hate crimes like those experienced by our Asian American and Pacific Islander communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, DOJ’s civil rights work is critical to protecting the American dream,” Garland said in a statement in his first appearance before a House subcommittee in his position.
In his presentation, a virtual appearance, Garland asked Congress for a $35 billion budget to accomplish his long list of goals, up five percent from 2020. It also seeks to do more to support gun control and focus on domestic terrorism. "Our budget supports my commitment to protecting our national security, including addressing both international and domestic terrorism, while respecting civil liberties," he said.
Garland testified that he wants improved funding for the Community Relations Service, a part of the Justice Department that has provided mediation for racial, ethnic and gender conflicts that have increased nationwide, USA Today reports. Over the past four years of the Trump administration, funds for the office have plummeted.
"That service has badly withered over the years," Garland testified. "An important part of our request for the Civil Rights Division is to increase hiring for CRS."
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In the final weeks of the Trump Administration in January, the DOJ under former Attorney General Bill Barr tried to pare back Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits recipients of federal funding from discriminatory actions. This ploy happened Jan. 5, but the attention of the federal government was mainly concentrated on the insurrection at the Capitol that took place the next day.
With President Joe Biden in the White House, a new call for strengthening Civil Rights protections has risen and has found support among legislators.
"This is an historic opportunity to address systemic barriers to full participation in society, ensure access to economic opportunities and protect the right to vote," Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright said, according to USA Today. "As we face unprecedented threats from domestic violent extremism, such as the attack on the Capitol on January 6 this year and the national epidemic of firearm deaths and injuries, your proposed increases to address those problems are critical."
But at least one Republican opposed the proposal to increase the DOJ’s budget. "I'm concerned that if implemented, this budget would irresponsibly invest taxpayer dollars in initiatives that lack proper grounding and evidence or insights," said Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt.
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