The lawsuit, which comes days after Senate Republicans sank their Democratic counterparts’ signature ballot and electoral law during a major test vote, is an early example of the Biden administration’s attempt to use government levers to pass restrictive state laws to block.
While President Joe Biden has stressed the independence between the Oval Office and the Justice Department, he has nonetheless noted that the right to vote is an important agenda item for his entire administration. Biden narrowly won the state of Georgia in the 2020 presidential election, making it the first Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 to make it.
Read the full lawsuit here
“This lawsuit is the first of many steps we are taking to ensure that all eligible voters have a vote, that all legitimate votes are counted, and that every voter has access to accurate information,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a news conference on Friday
Civil Rights Division chair Kristen Clarke said the Georgia law is aimed at blacks and minority voters.
“These legislative moves came at a time when Georgia’s black population was growing, and after a historic election that saw record turnouts across the state, particularly postal voting, which black voters are now more likely to use than white voters , “Said Clarke during the press conference. “Our complaint challenges several provisions of SB 202 because they were adopted with the intention of denying black citizens equal access to the political process or of bridging them.”
Republican Governor Brian Kemp made a defiant statement in response to the ministry’s announcement, calling the lawsuit “born of the lies and misinformation that the Biden administration pushed against Georgia’s electoral integrity law from the outset.”
Kemp accused the government of “arming the US Department of Justice to carry out its far-left agenda, which undermines the integrity of the elections and strengthens the supremacy of the federal government in our democracy.”
Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said it was “no surprise (the DOJ) is operationalizing their lies with the full force of the federal government. I look forward to meeting them in court and beating them.”
After the Georgia Bill was passed, Biden urged Congress to pass a voting law that would counteract such measures.
The then president called Georgia law “Jim Crow in the 21st Century” and “an atrocity”.
DOJ using the Voting Rights Act
The Justice Department is suing Georgia under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. It prohibits elective qualifications that lead “to a” refusal or restriction “of the right to vote” based on race “.
Disputes according to § 2 can only be asserted after the entry into force of this ordinance.
However, Garland’s efforts could be hampered by a recent Supreme Court case, Brnovich v DNC, in which the Republican National Committee and the Arizona Attorney General are defending two provisions of state law against a Section 2 challenge by the Democratic National Committee.
One ordinance completely rejects ballots for local, state, and national races if they are cast in the wrong district, and another states that only certain people – such as family members – can cast someone else’s completed ballot at the polling station.
A federal appeals court invalidated both under Section 2, emphasizing the “long history of racial discrimination by the state against its Native American, Hispanic and African American citizens”.
Now the DNC fears that the Supreme Court will limit the scope of Section 2 and allow the provisions to remain in effect.
Further measures by the DOJ, including audits
Also on Friday, the Justice Department announced a task force to tackle increasing threats against election officials. Jurisdictions across the country, particularly in high-stakes local elections such as Fulton County, Georgia, reported receiving threats and racial taunts.
Garland said the Justice Department will decide to file additional federal civil suits against states that have enacted restrictive electoral laws.
“We’re looking at laws that have already been passed, as well as those that have recently been passed and how they are being passed, and we are going to make the same kind of judgment that we have made on this,” Garlande said.
This year alone, 14 states passed controversial voting laws that Garland marked.
“Some jurisdictions have used abnormal post-election screening methods based on disinformation that may compromise the integrity of the voting process and undermine public confidence in our democracy,” said the Attorney General.
Georgia’s law challenged in multiple proceedings
Georgia became the first battlefield this year for the president to pass new election restrictions after Biden’s victory in the White House – sparking legal disputes and rebukes from major state corporations. Major League Baseball pulled the All-Star Game out of Georgia in protest.
Before the Justice Department’s lawsuit on Friday, at least seven lawsuits had been filed contesting the provisions.
Shortly after it was passed in March, the bill had already been challenged in court by a trio of constituencies: the New Georgia Project, the Black Voters Matter Fund, and Rise Inc. The lawsuit said the new bill “disproportionately affects black voters, and interacts with these traces of discrimination in Georgia to deny black voters (an) equal opportunity to participate in the political process and / or to vote for a candidate of their choice. “
Opponents of the Georgian law welcomed the DOJ’s move, with NAACP President Derrick Johnson saying it “expresses the urgency needed to protect our fragile democracy and ensure that all voices are heard”.
Suffrage activists are particularly concerned about parts of the law that give the Republican-controlled state government new powers to hold elections in the state’s democratic strongholds.
Under the terms of the law, the Republican-controlled legislature now has the power to elect three out of five members of the state election committee. And that body has new powers to replace local electoral officials it believes are underperforming. The board can now take over the election administration in up to four counties at the same time.
In addition, the legislature removed the Foreign Minister as a voting member of the state election committee. Raffensperger, the current secretary of state, defied Trump’s false claims of 2020 election fraud and now faces a primary challenge from a strong ally of the former president, GOP MP Jody Hice.
This story has been updated with additional reactions and background information.
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez contributed to this report.