Attorney General Merrick Garland seeks an increase in Justice Department funding to bolster civil rights, community relations, counterterrorism and immigration courts.
WASHINGTON (CN) — In his first public testimony since taking office, Attorney General Merrick Garland testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee Tuesday morning to request an increase in funding for the Justice Department.
Several areas of the agency were underfunded and defanged to suit former President Donald Trump’s political goals. In his promise to rebuild the Justice Department to its former glory, Garland requested $35.2 billion for the 2022 fiscal year, up from $29.9 billion in 2020 and $28.1 billion in 2019.
“It includes increases of $45 million for the FBI for domestic terrorism investigations and $40 million for the U.S. attorneys to manage increasing domestic terrorism caseloads,” he said in his opening statement.
Garland promised during his confirmation hearing that he would make domestic terror a central focus, particularly in the wake of the Jan. 6 siege on the Capitol complex. One of Garland’s defining cases as a federal prosecutor was that of Timothy McVeigh, the man who set off a bomb and killed 168 people in an Oklahoma City federal building in 1995.
But much of the budget increase will go to the critically underfunded, under-resourced and understaffed divisions within the department.
“Our budget seeks to increase the department’s civil rights funding by $33 million, providing a total of $209 million for the Civil Rights Division, the Community Relations Service, and related civil rights work,” Garland told House lawmakers.
In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, Congresswoman Grace Meng, a Democrat from Queens, New York, focused her questions on how to combat anti-Asian hate from a federal level. Many community members feared bearing the brunt of racist violence but they’re hesitant to cooperate with law enforcement, she said.
“Is CRS scalable?” she asked. “How can DOJ help local community groups seek help outside of the criminal justice system?”
Garland admitted that the department only has “26 or 27 total members of the Community Relations Service at this point,” and committed to increasing hiring in the division.
Subcommittee Chairman Matt Cartwright, a Pennsylvania Democrat, touched on how the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the Voting Rights Act’s power to protect voting rights and made the Civil Rights Division’s work more difficult as a result.
Since the high court ruling invalidated a coverage formula used to determine which states had to get federal government preclearance for election-related changes, Garland said, it has limited the amount and types of voting rights cases the Justice Department can consider. It’s become “a much more time-consuming and more expensive process,” he explained.
In addition to more funding to tackle civil rights issues, Garland requested a 21% budget increase for the Executive Office for Immigration Review to support 100 new immigration judges, citing a backlog of nearly 1.3 million pending cases in the immigration court system.
He testified that the department cut the hiring process for immigration judges from two years to six months to accelerate the asylum process.
“It’s obviously not working for the people who are in the system and not working for the government with respect to evaluating those people,” Garland said.