Justice Department Sues Georgia Over New Voting Restrictions, Claiming Discriminatory Intent
The lawsuit claims Georgia officials enacted restrictive provisions with the intent of curtailing the right to vote based on race.
The Justice Department filed a civil rights lawsuit today challenging several portions of Georgia's contentious new voting law, which the Justice Department alleges were enacted with the intent "to deny or abridge the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of race or color."
In a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, the Justice Department alleges that portions of Georgia's Senate Bill 202, enacted into law in March, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits discriminatory voting laws.
The lawsuit is a signal that the Biden Justice Department plans to go on the offensive against a campaign by Republicans in statehouses across the country to tighten voting laws following baseless and widespread claims, most notably from former President Donald Trump, that the 2020 election was stolen.
"The right of all eligible citizens to vote is the central pillar of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press release. "This lawsuit is the first step of many we are taking to ensure that all eligible voters can cast a vote; that all lawful votes are counted; and that every voter has access to accurate information."
The Justice Department is challenging provisions, among others, that shorten the deadline to request absentee ballots to 11 days before Election Day, limit counties' use of absentee ballot drop boxes, and ban churches and civic groups from providing food and water to voters waiting in line.
As Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown wrote, Georgia Republicans touted the legislation as an "election integrity" bill, but "to anyone whose brain hasn't been melted by partisan politics, it's a pretty transparent attempt to sway election results, or at least to play to voter fraud fears."
In a Justice Department press conference this morning, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said the bill was not passed in a vacuum, noting the rise in absentee voting and the rush to draft and pass the legislation.
The complaint also points to current voting trends as a factor in the passage of the law. "The General Assembly adopted these changes after Black voters began disproportionately using absentee voting, and Black voters will be disproportionately impacted by each of these new obstacles," the lawsuit alleges.
There was significant backlash over the Georgia legislation. Democrats and progressive groups called it "Jim Crow." Major League Baseball announced it was moving the All-Star Game out of Atlanta this July over the law. Republicans and conservative pundits claimed the criticisms were hyperbolic, and many of the provisions could be found in other states, some of them run by Democrats.
The law is already the subject of several other civil suits by progressive and voting rights groups.
Georgia officials condemned the Justice Department lawsuit.
"The Biden administration continues to do the bidding of Stacey Abrams and spreads more lies about Georgia's election law," Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement. "Their lies already cost Georgia $100 million and got the President awarded with four Pinocchios. It is no surprise that they would operationalize their lies with the full force of the federal government."