Merrick Garland Sees the Big Picture

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Monday that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is suing the state of Texas alleging that redistricting plans violate the Voting Rights Act.

The move comes ahead of the crucial 2022 midterm elections where Republicans will be aiming to take back the House of Representatives and potentially stymie President Joe Biden's agenda.

Garland has suffered criticism in the past for not pursuing charges against former President Donald Trump over the January 6 Capitol riot but the DOJ's announcement may show that the attorney general understands the big picture on GOP strategy.

The Republican Party has long been accused of drawing gerrymandered congressional districts in order to give GOP candidates advantages in House races and Garland's comments on Monday seemed to indicate he is moving to tackle the practice.

Garland accused Texas of violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights by "creating redistricting plans that deny or abridge the rights of Latino and Black voters to vote on account of their race, color or membership in a language minority group."

As a result of the 2020 U.S. Census, Texas was allocated two new seats in the House and drew two districts with white majorities. This is despite the fact that the state's population growth has been driven by growth in the Black and Hispanic communities.

Voter Dilution

Garland explained on Monday that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act forbids "vote dilution."

"Vote dilution occurs when an electoral practice minimizes or cancels out the voting strength of members of a racial group or language minority group," Garland said, going on to say that the DOJ's voting law experts have determined Texas' plans include districts that violate the act.

Garland also noted that the DOJ had filed statements of interest in litigation in Florida and Arizona regarding voting and the Voting Rights Act.

By taking up allegedly discriminatory redistricting in Texas, Garland may be indicating that he is taking aim at broader issues than simply targeting Trump, despite criticism.

Electoral Integrity

Thomas Gift, founding director of University College London's Centre on U.S. Politics, told Newsweek on Tuesday that it was "notable" that the DOJ was bringing the lawsuit.

"Practically, any decision will have obvious consequences for the electoral math in Texas, a state that's increasingly 'purple' and where Democrats are making more and more headway in traditional Republican strongholds amid persistent demographic change," Gift said.

"That opens up Garland to attacks from the right that the DOJ is pursuing an implicit partisan agenda by going after Texas," he added.

"Symbolically, the Texas lawsuit fits into a broader debate about electoral integrity in the U.S., with Democrats accusing Republicans of systematically disenfranchising select voting blocs," Gift said.

"It's not too hard to connect the dots between this case and other controversies over Republican-endorsed measures - notably voter ID laws - that opponents say suppress representation of marginalized citizens," he said.

However, Gift noted that the problem "isn't confined to one side of the political aisle" and Democrats have also engaged in gerrymandering.

The Case Against Trump

Mary Trump, the former president's niece, called Garland an "idiot" for not prosecuting her uncle over the Capitol riot, expressing a sentiment shared by some liberals.

"I thought the Department of Justice was supposed to be about justice but Merrick Garland seems to have deluded himself into believing that by not pursuing this he's somehow taking the politics out of the Department of Justice," Mary Trump said on Friday.

Mark Shanahan is an associate professor at the Department of Politics and International Relations at Reading University and co-editor of The Trump Presidency: From Campaign Trail to World Stage. He told Newsweek on Tuesday that any case against former President Trump arising from January 6 could take years.

"At his confirmation hearing, Merrick Garland stressed he wanted to return the DOJ to being an impartial protector of the law, not a political tool of whoever's in the White House," Shanahan said.

Shanahan said the DOJ under Garland was not acting "on the daily hot stories coming out of the media."

"Any case against Donald Trump emerging from the January 6 Capitol riot will be methodically and painstakingly built – it may take years to emerge, long after the first prosecutions of those who actually stormed the Capitol and maliciously roamed its halls," he said.

"In terms of the lawsuits against Texas, the law seems unequivocal - states cannot participate in actions that deliver 'voter dilution' - and that's what Texas appears to be attempting through its redistricting efforts," Shanahan went on.

"The fact that it's a Republican-governed state is immaterial to the lawsuit. If a Democrat-run state took similar action, it would face an equivalent lawsuit from the DOJ."

Shanahan said that Garland "is focused on taking politics out of Justice - but political action will, and always should, be subject to judicial response if the fundamental laws of the U.S. are threatened."

Voting Rights

Garland has repeatedly made voting rights a central concern of the DOJ since he came to office. In June, the department announced a lawsuit against Georgia alleging changes to election laws there "were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color."

Earlier that month, Garland said the DOJ would double the size of its voting rights unit and in October, the attorney general said his department was "seriously and urgently investigating" states' changes to voting laws, including redistricting.

During his remarks on Monday, Garland called on Congress to reinstate the DOJ's preclearance authority, which previously forbade certain jurisdictions from changing voting laws without approval. The Supreme Court effectively eliminated that provision in 2013.

Garland appears to be looking ahead at the effects of changes to voting laws and allegations of Republicans' changing the rules to benefit their party rather than focusing on the past.

Merrick Garland Speaks at a Press Conference
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a press conference at the Robert F. Kennedy Main Justice Building on November 08, 2021 in Washington, DC. Garland announced his department is suing Texas alleging a breach of the Voting Rights Act. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images