VIDEO: Padilla at Garland Confirmation Hearing: “Voter Suppression is Rooted in White Supremacy”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in his first Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) questioned Judge Merrick Garland on his nomination to be Attorney General of the United States.

Padilla, California’s former Secretary of State, focused on concerns around new voter suppression laws targeting minority communities. He also asked Garland how he’ll work to combat white supremacy and the rising threat of domestic terrorism following the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol. In response to questions from Padilla, Judge Garland confirmed his commitment to enforcing voting rights and combatting white supremacy.

WATCH: Full Video of Senator Padilla’s Questioning here

Key Highlights:

  • PADILLA: As the country has become more diverse, not just states like California and New York, but throughout the nation, it’s no coincidence that we have seen a resurgence of white supremacy and violent extremism. And history’s clear: voter suppression is rooted in white supremacy.
  • PADILLA: We all saw how former President Trump’s years of lies about voter fraud, the “Big Lie,” radicalized many of his supporters and led not just to physical threats against elections officials, elections offices, polling places and even voters, but they ultimately led to the violent insurrection here in the nation’s Capitol.
  • PADILLA: I was struck by February 19th opinion piece in the Washington Post by Jim Sciutto about the parallels between the Capitol insurrectionists and foreign terrorist organizations, that I respectfully ask be inserted into the record, Mr. Chairman. In it, Jim Sciutto writes, and I’ll quote, “Domestic radicalism has deep parallels to jihadist terrorism. Both movements are driven by alienation from the political system and a resulting breakdown in social norms. For some groups and individuals this break down leads to violence they see as justified to achieve political ends.”
  • PADILLA: Now, as we all know, the definition of terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political ends. President Trump’s political end was clear: stopping the certification of the 2020 election at the Capitol on January 6th. One could argue that right-winged groups like the proud boys and the oath keepers have acted like terrorist cells, communicating with one another, training together and preparing for the moment they are activated for their mission.

Full Transcript of Senator Padilla’s Questioning:

PADILLA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Judge Garland, and to your family, thank you for your many, many years of public service and should you be fortunate enough to be confirmed in this next chapter. Spent a bit more than 20 years in public service myself in different capacities including, the prior six years, prior to my appointment to the Senate, as California’s Secretary of State and Chief Elections Officer. My mission in that role was to increase voter participation and ensure free and fair elections. As the country has become more diverse, not just states like California and New York, but throughout the nation, it’s no coincidence that we have seen a resurgence of white supremacy and violent extremism. And history’s clear: voter suppression is rooted in white supremacy. This is true now and has been true ever since Reconstruction and the establishment of the Department of Justice, just as this committee has acknowledged at its outset. It should not be lost on any of us that after the 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision by the Supreme Court, we’ve seen a wave of legislation in states across the nation, which have the effect of making it harder for eligible citizens to register to vote, to stay registered to vote, or to simply cast their ballots. I know Senator Leahy touched on the subject of voting rights in his questioning earlier today, but I want to acknowledge that despite the success of the 2020 election, which has been deemed secure, new voter suppression laws are being introduced right now across the country under the false pretext of preventing voter fraud. Now we all saw how former President Trump’s years of lies about voter fraud, the “Big Lie,” radicalized many of his supporters and led not just to physical threats against elections officials, elections offices, polling places and even voters, but they ultimately led to the violent insurrection here in the nation’s Capitol. I know you touched on this in your opening remarks, but can you expand on how you will combat the white supremacy that threatens the safety and fairness of our elections specifically?

GARLAND: Well, yes, a lot of questions all in one, which is –

PADILLA: It’s complicated.

GARLAND: – it’s a complicated problem, right. So, I strongly believe in voting and in increasing every possible opportunity for voting, which of course Congress can do even on its own, the elections clause the Constitution permits the Congress to set time, place and manner and to alter state regulations in that respect. In default, the state decides what Congress can act that way. So that is one thing that Congress could do as a matter of legislation. As I said, I think I’d like to work with the Congress on improving the record with respect to Section 4, so that we can use a tool of Section 5. We do have the authority of Section 2, it does require, it changes the burden of proof and it requires to attack one by one, changes in election laws, but it does give us the opportunity to bring cases both where there was intention to discriminate, but also where there’s an overall disparate impact with respect to discrimination. So, we have a number of tools available to us. And the Voting Rights section of the Civil Rights division was established for the purpose of pursuing those cases and we would do so.

PADILLA: Thank you. I want to dig a little bit deeper on this because you’re absolutely right. We need to, in my opinion, to restore the full strength of the federal Voting Rights Act. There’s a lot that can and should be done, not just in terms of elections administration with respect to the voting rights, but the protections of voters themselves. You know, people should be able to vote free of any harassment, intimidation, obstacles, et cetera. And part of what works against that is, again rooted in white supremacy, this “Big Lie.” We all sat through the impeachment trial and the results notwithstanding, can’t help but be moved by the evidence presented by the House managers. And again, how President Trump’s “Big Lie” about voter fraud radicalized so many of his supporters. Now, I was struck by February 19th opinion piece in the Washington Post by Jim Sciutto about the parallels between the Capitol insurrectionists and foreign terrorist organizations, that I respectfully ask be inserted into the record, Mr. Chairman. In it, Jim Sciutto writes, and I’ll quote, “Domestic radicalism has deep parallels to jihadist terrorism. Both movements are driven by alienation from the political system and a resulting breakdown in social norms. For some groups and individuals this break down leads to violence they see as justified to achieve political ends.” End quote. Now, as we all know, the definition of terrorism is the unlawful use of violence and intimidation in pursuit of political ends. President Trump’s political end was clear: stopping the certification of the 2020 election at the Capitol on January 6th. One could argue that right-winged groups like the proud boys and the oath keepers have acted like terrorist cells, communicating with one another, training together and preparing for the moment they are activated for their mission. Indeed, President Trump instructed the proud boys on national television to stand back and stand by. And then he summoned them to the Capitol on January 6th as Congress was meeting to certify the election. What happened on January 6th was not property crime, was not a vandalism, was not vandalism in reference to a question you were asked earlier. Judge Garland, as we sit here in the United States Capitol surrounded by national guard troops in barbed wire, how will you bring the full resources of the Justice Department to bear on white supremacist organizations that pose an ongoing threat to not just our safety and not just the safety of this Capitol building, but to our fundamental democracy for which it stands?

GARLAND: I couldn’t agree more that extremist groups and particularly white supremacist groups do pose a fundamental threat to our democracy and they have posed that threat throughout our history. And as I recounted, that was the reason the Justice Department was originally established to fight the first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan. The best that I can do is, as I said, my first priority will be to have a briefing on where we are, if I’m confirmed, with the investigations, which from the outside appear quite vigorous and nationwide and to find out what additional resources we need. But that is just a focus on what happened in the Capitol. We also have to have a focus on what is happening all over the country and on where this could spread and where this came from. And that requires, it does require a lot of resources. I am very pleased to have read that the director of the FBI believes that this kind of extremism is the most dangerous threat to the country and that that’s where he’s putting FBI resources. And that is where I would put Justice Department resources. And we need very much to make sure that that’s the case. I do want to be careful that we also always worry about the foreign threat, because it is always with us and the fact that nothing has happened recently doesn’t mean it could not happen tomorrow. So from whichever direction inside, outside, right, left, doesn’t matter, an attack on our institutions of democracy and of our ability to go forward with our daily lives in safety has to be stopped. And that we need all, it’s a government wide, but also a Justice Department wide obligation.

PADILLA: Thank you, Judge. Thank you, Mr. Chair.

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