WASHINGTON – Attorney General Merrick Garland asked Congress Tuesday for more than $35 billion in funding for the Justice Department – a 5% increase from last year – with millions of dollars allotted to enforce civil rights, prosecute domestic terrorism, invest in community policing and boost funding for victims of sexual violence.
Among the biggest funding requests are $1.2 billion for community policing, an increase of $304 million from last year, and a “historic investment” of $1 billion for the Office of Violence Against Women, which provides services to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.
“Our budget supports my commitment to protecting our national security, including addressing both international and domestic terrorism, while respecting civil liberties,” Garland told a House subcommittee during his first testimony as attorney general.
Garland’s budget request would bolster funding for the FBI and U.S. attorney’s offices by $85 million allotted for domestic terrorism investigations and prosecutions. During his confirmation hearing, Garland said his “first priority” as attorney general is the far-reaching investigation into the deadly Capitol assault in January. Since then, the Justice Department has charged more than 400 defendants across the country.
Garland also seeks $209 million for the Justice Department’s civil rights work – a $33 million boost from last year – citing the need to enforce voting rights and prosecute a rising number of hate crimes against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. The attorney general has promised to make enforcing civil rights his priority and has moved swiftly to revive federal oversight of police agencies accused of civil rights abuses that languished under the Trump administration.
During his testimony Tuesday, Garland said he also seeks to reinvigorate funding for the Community Relations Service, a little-known but longstanding unit of the Justice Department that for decades has mediated racial, ethnic and gender clashes that are once again surging across the country. But funding for the unit has dwindled to zero over four years of the Trump administration.
From $15 million to $0: As racial tensions simmered, Trump administration sought to defund DOJ ‘peacemaker’ unit
“That service has badly withered over the years,” Garland said. “An important part of our request for the Civil Rights Division is to increase hiring for CRS.”
WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 26: US Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice alongside Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta (L) and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco on April 26, 2021 in Washington, DC. Garland announced that the Justice Department will begin an investigation into the policing practices of the Louisville Police Department in Kentucky. A report of any constitutional and unlawful violations will be published. (Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images) (Photo: Pool, Getty Images)
Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pennsylvania, said the proposed increase for civil rights enforcement is “sorely needed.”
“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,” Cartwright said. “As we face unprecedented threats from domestic violent extremism, such as the attack on the Capitol on January 6 thid year and the national epidemic of firearm deaths and injuries, your proposed increases to address those problems are critical.”
Citing a “staggering rate” of gun deaths nationwide, Garland is seeking additional funding for improved background checks, more comprehensive red-flag laws and grant funding for community programs.
Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, raised early resistance against the massive budget proposal, saying the Justice Department is prioritizing programs at the expense of important national needs, such as investigating foreign terrorist threats, prosecuting human trafficking and protecting U.S. intelligence property against foreign government interference.
“I’m concerned that if implemented, this budget would irresponsibly invest taxpayer dollars in initiatives that lack proper grounding and evidence or insights,” Aderholt said, singling out gun control initiatives that he said infringes on the rights of law-abiding citizens.
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