WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned U.S. Attorney General (AG) Merrick Garland about how the Department of Justice (DOJ) is protecting women seeking reproductive services and combating domestic terrorism during a full committee hearing. During her line of questioning, Senator Hirono asked about what steps the DOJ is taking to ensure that women can travel to states where abortion remains legal in order to receive reproductive care without fear of prosecution, as well as how the department is working to ensure that state and local law enforcement partners across the country do not use federal resources to enforce state law and restrict access to reproductive services. She also highlighted an ongoing lawsuit in Texas, where a radical Trump-appointed Judge could side with an anti-abortion rights group and effectively ban the drug most commonly prescribed for medication abortion nationwide.
“So, you have a federal judge that is about to impose this kind of an injunction that would affect every state in the country, including all those states like Hawaii, which was among the first to decriminalize abortion,” continued Senator Hirono. “So, I would say that the efforts do not stop there, so whatever you can do to make sure that women in this country know that they can travel to other states to get whatever services that they seek.”
Senator Hirono also highlighted the rise in domestic terrorist attacks and the significant threat that racially-motivated violent extremists pose to our country’s safety.
“National security agents now identify domestic terrorism as the most persistent and lethal terrorist threat to the homeland,” said Senator Hirono. “They also explain that, ‘this increase in domestic terror attacks have been predominantly perpetuated by white supremacists and anti-government extremist individuals and groups.’”
“Racially motivated violent extremists, as a group, are the most dangerous of the domestic violent extremist groups,” confirmed AG Garland. “And within that, the white supremacists are the most dangerous and most lethal.”
A transcript of Senator Hirono’s full question line is available below and a link to download video is available here.
Sen. Hirono: Mr. Attorney General, aloha.
Mr. Garland: Aloha.
Sen. Hirono: As I have sat listening to some of the questions, the phrase “badgering the witness” comes to mind, but I commend you for the calm way that you have comported yourself at this hearing. You have been accused of selective prosecution around the abortion issues. I want to note that since 1977, anti-choice extremists have been responsible for 11 murders, 26 attempted murders, 42 bombings, 194 arsons, and thousands of other criminal incidents by anti-choice extremists. And, of course, we should prosecute all violence and threats of violence by those on both sides of the abortion issue, but isn’t it the case that our prosecutorial focus should be on the most violent acts?
Mr. Garland: We prosecute without respect to ideology but we do focus on the most violent acts, the most dangerous actors—the cases that are most likely to lead to danger to Americans. But we don’t care what the ideology of the person who is threatening that act or who is taking that act—we will prosecute regardless.
Sen. Hirono: That is what I would expect of any Attorney General who observes the rule of law and who abides by it, regardless of whatever the religion, all of that, so that is what I expect from the Attorney General. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s—in my view, disastrous—ruling in Dobbs, because that ruling has led to fear and chaos all across the country, and abortion is now a crime in over a dozen states, but it is not a federal crime. What affirmative steps is the department taking to ensure that states are not infringing women’s constitutional right to travel across state lines for whatever purpose?
Mr. Garland: We did not see anything in the Dobbs case to suggest in any way that states can interfere with travel between states. In fact, at least one of the justices made clear that that was not within the scope of Dobbs, so we are looking closely. I’m not familiar with any state that has tried to criminalize interstate travel but if there were, we would make the appropriate filings. We have supported the Veterans Department, the Department of Defense, in their policy decisions to support people to travel out of state to receive the necessary reproductive care.
Sen. Hirono: Mr. Attorney General, there are people who are trying to make it ever harder for persons who get pregnant in this country to be able to access abortion services and other reproductive services. In fact, we are awaiting a decision by a federal judge in Texas—whether or not he should impose a national injunction on the use of Mifepristone, which is the drug that is most often used for early stage abortion. It is also a drug that is used to treat miscarriages in the early stages. So, you have a federal judge that is about to impose this kind of an injunction that would affect every state in the country, including all those states like Hawaii, which was among the first to decriminalize abortion. So, I would say that the efforts do not stop there, so whatever you can do to make sure that women in this country know that they can travel to other states to get whatever services that they seek.
The department awards billions of dollars in grants to state, local, and tribal law enforcement each year. The department also operates joint task forces and provides access to forensic and surveillance resources. This sort of collaboration can be good when put to good use fighting criminals who prey on our communities, but these resources could also be used against women seeking reproductive care. I’ve just sent a letter to the President expressing my concerns about the use of these federal funds by local law enforcement to basically hunt down women who are seeking abortion. So how is the department working to ensure that states and local partners do not use federal resources to enforce state laws restricting women’s access to reproductive care?
Mr. Garland: On your first question, just to be clear, we have filed and supported the FDA in the Mifepristone lawsuit that you’re talking about. We’re hopeful that the result will not be the one that you’ve described.
Sen. Hirono: Well, there was judge shopping to make sure that this particular Texas judge would get this case.
Mr. Garland: We have filed the appropriate briefs in that. On the second question, I personally haven’t looked into it, I don’t know the answer to that. So if we can have some people in the department get back to your staff on that, I’d be happy to do that.
Sen. Hirono: Thank you very much, with the perspective that these kinds of federal resources should not be used by states to go after women who are seeking reproductive services; I hope that is the perspective that you bring to the issue.
I want to get to the issue of domestic terrorism and white supremacy. Last fall, our colleagues on the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee released a report on the federal response to domestic terrorism. In it, they noted, and I quote, “National security agents now identify domestic terrorism as the most persistent and lethal terrorist threat to the homeland.” They also explain that, “this increase in domestic terror attacks have been predominantly perpetuated by white supremacists and anti-government extremist individuals and groups.”
This fits with a recent Department of Homeland Security assessment that the country “remains in a heightened threat environment” and that some of the potential targets include, “faith-based institutions, the LGBTQ community, schools, and racial and religious minorities.” Do you agree that white supremacist terrorists pose a significant threat to our country and especially to racial and religious minorities and the LGBTQ+ community?
Mr. Garland: Yes, as the FBI reported in that report you’re talking about, racially motivated violent extremists as a group are the most dangerous of the domestic violent extremist groups. And within that, the white supremacists are the most dangerous and most lethal, yes.
Sen. Hirono: So, what more can the department do to combat this rise and these kinds of domestic terrorist activities?
Mr. Garland: Well we’ve allocated a significant amount of resources for this purpose, the National Security division has set up a domestic violent extremist unit to further track and try and interdict these actions, the FBI is treating this with enormous seriousness of purpose and we are going to do everything we can to deter and prosecute.
Sen. Hirono: Thank you.