DOJ Sues Georgia Over GOP-Backed Voter Law, Alleging Bias

The Justice Department is filing a lawsuit against a sweeping new Republican-backed voting law in Georgia, saying it represents intentional discrimination against Black voters and is unconstitutional.

“This lawsuit is the first of many steps we are taking to ensure that all eligible voters can cast a vote,” Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday.

The Georgia election law imposes new voter identification requirements, allows state officials to take over local elections boards, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, shortens the absentee voting window and makes it illegal to approach voters in line to give them food and water.

Some provisions were softened or dropped in an almost 100-page last minute compromise -- largely with the business community -- that whipped through both chambers of the legislature in just one week.

“The complaint alleges that the state enacted those restrictions with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on the basis of race of color,” Garland said.

Although Garland has kept a low profile in his early months as attorney general, the lawsuit Friday puts him in the middle of the conflict over Republican efforts to impose new voting restrictions after former President Donald Trump’s false claims that “massive” voter fraud deprived him of re-election.

‘Lies, Misinformation’

“This lawsuit is born out of the lies and misinformation the Biden administration has pushed against Georgia’s Election Integrity Act from the start,” the state’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp said in a statement.

The lawsuit also drew criticism from Brad Raffensperger, the Republican secretary of state. Although Raffensperger has been pilloried by his party for combating Trump’s stolen-election claims, he backs the new law and predicted the Justice Department lawsuit will fail.

He blamed the move on “false attacks put forward by political opportunists like Stacey Abrams,” a former Democratic candidate for governor in the state and a national voting rights leader.

Abrams expressed appreciation to Garland and his deputies, saying in a statement that the measure “in Georgia and similar anti-voter bills being passed around the country undermine our democracy and restrict access in ways that target voters of color.”

Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, a Georgia-based voter advocacy group, called the Justice Department lawsuit “a strong action” that “sends a message to other states that if you’re going to pursue voter suppression policies then you need to be ready to defend Jim Crow in court.”

The Georgia law, signed by Kemp on March 25, drew an immediate backlash from civil rights groups and major corporations, including the NAACP and Delta Air Lines Inc. Major League Baseball also moved to take this year’s All-Star Game and the MLB Draft event from Atlanta to show its concern over the legislation.

In addition to the lawsuit, the Justice Department will issue a directive to all federal prosecutors and the FBI instructing them to prioritize investigating threats against election officials, Garland said.

In an earlier address to the department’s workforce, Garland criticized ad-hoc audits of the 2020 election, such as a controversial recount underway in Arizona, backed by Trump supporters, that he said were based on accusations already rejected by the courts.

Until a 2013 Supreme Court decision threw out part of the Voting Rights Act, Georgia was among states required to get federal pre-approval before marking major changes to voting laws due to their history of racial discrimination in elections.

Democrats in Congress have proposed legislation that would restore pre-clearance requirements and mandate specific voting practices in all 50 states, but those have stalled amid universal Republican opposition in the Senate.

Republican-led state legislatures, meantime, have moved quickly to enact new restrictions this year, shortening deadlines, requiring voter ID and cutting early voting periods, among other things. Most of the changes make voting less convenient, but Democrats have called the changes “Jim Crow 2.0.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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