Attorney General Merrick Garland asked Congress Tuesday for more than $35 billion in funding for the Justice Department – a 5% increase from last year – including 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.
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 would be the far-reaching investigation into the Capitol assault Jan. 6. Since then, the Justice Department has charged more than 400 defendants across the country.
Garland 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 promised to make enforcing civil rights a priority and moved swiftly to revive federal oversight of police agencies accused of abuses, oversight that languished under the Trump administration.
"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 said he seeks to reinvigorate funding for the Community Relations Service, a little-known but long-standing unit of the Justice Department that for decades has mediated racial, ethnic and gender clashes that are once again surging across the country. Funding for the unit dwindled to zero over four years of the Trump administration.
"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."
Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., 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 Jan. 6 this 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 seeks additional funding for improved background checks, more comprehensive red-flag laws and grant funding for community programs.
Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., 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 would infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens.