US Reps. Tell AG Garland: States, Not DOJ, Have Authority Over How Elections Are Run

By Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq
August 12, 2021 Updated: August 12, 2021

The ranking members of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland criticizing his recent directive to the Justice Department (DOJ) on resetting elections to pre-pandemic laws.

Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Mike Johnson (R-La.) on Thursday told Garland that the election guidance the DOJ issued in July is misguided as it is the states’ responsibility to set election laws, not the Justice Department’s.

In their letter, Jordan and Johnson said that the U.S. Constitution empowers state legislatures with “primary responsibility for setting election rules,” and that Garland’s guidance opposes the founding document.

“Many of the changes that state and local governments made to voting procedures in 2020 were temporary, emergency changes to ‘promote both the safety of their citizens and robust democratic participation during the pandemic,” the congressmen wrote. “These jurisdictions should be allowed to evaluate the changing circumstances and their experiences in 2020 and make appropriate lawful changes, without the threat of litigation from the federal government.”

A key message of the DOJ’s July guidance was to not allow states to return their voting rules to pre-pandemic status, and if they do, it will be seen as an unlawful action by the DOJ and subject to increased oversight and possible litigation.

“The Department’s enforcement policy does not consider a jurisdiction’s re-adoption of prior voting laws or procedures to be presumptively lawful; instead, the Department will review a jurisdiction’s changes in voting laws or procedures for compliance with all federal laws regarding elections, as the facts and circumstances warrant,” the July DOJ guidance memo stated.

“Whether wittingly or not, your new guidance makes you complicit in a broader effort by elected Democrats to politicize federal voting rights laws. Democrats allege that recent lawful state voter integrity measures, such as Georgia’s S.B. 202 and proposed Texas legislation, constitute ‘Jim Crow 2.0’ and ‘voter suppression.’ In reality, these states are enacting commonsense voter integrity measures, many of which increase voting access beyond what is available in Democrat-run states,” the representatives wrote.

The representatives criticized Democrats’ response to state efforts and to federalizing election laws, with their sweeping voting rights bill that takes power away from states on how their elections are run and gives it to Congress, making elections less secure and unconstitutional.

Senate Democrats advanced S.1, the For the People Act of 2021, along party lines on Wednesday, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) saying he will prioritize a debate of S.1 as soon as the Senate convenes on Sept. 13 because it is his priority to counter what he calls state legislatures’ efforts to restrict voting access.

The Republicans’ letter requests documentation, delivered to them no later than Aug. 23, that will shed light on the DOJ’s effort to stop state legislatures from enacting new voting rights measures.

The congressmen want all written and other communications in reference to DOJ’s voting guidance, on the DOJ’s lawsuit against Georgia voting rights, and between the DOJ and White House in reference to state voting reforms.

Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq