Merrick Garland step pedinto his first congressional hot seat as attorney general where he testified before the House Appropriations Committee to propose a multibillion-dollar budget increase for the Justice Department.

On paper, the hearing will consider the Justice Department’s budget request of $35.2 billion for the next fiscal year. But Garland will likely spend more time talking about the biggest issues facing his agency than the dollars the department is asking for.

The chairman of the committee, Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, plans to focus his questions on how the Civil Rights Division within the Justice Department will be run, and how its leadership will address voting rights issues, particularly voter suppression efforts, according to a person familiar with the questions.

“Almost 65 years after its creation, the Civil Rights Division’s work remains vital to addressing unlawful discrimination and bias. 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 wrote in his prepared opening remarks, which were released Monday night.

Garland and his leadership team, including Vanita Gupta, who was confirmed as associate attorney general only two weeks ago, have moved swiftly to tackle some of the biggest civil rights issues confronting the country.

The Justice Department announced civil rights investigations into the practices of the Minneapolis and Louisville police departments in rapid succession last month, as well as criminal charges against three Georgia men accused of killing Ahmaud Arbery.

The men are already wrapped up in state proceedings for felony murder, but they are now faced with federal hate crimes and attempted kidnapping charges in connection with the death of 25-year-old Arbery, a Black man who was out for a jog near Brunswick, Georgia, in February 2020 when he was chased down in a truck by three men and fatally shot.

“Promoting public trust between communities and law enforcement is essential to making both communities and policing safer. Our budget proposes increased investment in programs that support community-oriented policing and addressing systemic inequities, including $1.2 billion, an increase of $304 million,” Garland wrote.

“We are seeking to increase our resources to combat gun violence by $232 million for FY22, supporting both DOJ federal law enforcement resources as well as grant funding for community violence intervention programs, improved background checks, and more comprehensive redflag laws,” Garland said.

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