The Justice Department is suing Georgia for its voting rights, Attorney General Merrick Garland and civil rights director Kristen Clarke said Friday, arguing the state is violating federal law by restricting voting based on race.

“Recent changes to Georgia’s electoral law were made with the aim of denying or restricting the right to vote for black Georgians based on race or color, in violation of Section 2 of the Suffrage Act,” Garland told the Justice Department on Friday.

Garland, flanked by other department heads including Clarke, Assistant Attorney General Monaco and Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, told reporters that the lawsuit “is the first of many steps we are taking to ensure that all eligible voters can cast all legitimate votes are counted and every voter has access to accurate information. “

Georgia new electoral law, which was signed by GOP Governor Brian Kemp in March, outraged Democrats and constituencies with voter ID requirements and changes to mail-in voting that will make it difficult for minorities and poorer voters to cast their votes. While the law adds new restrictions to postal voting, it also expands the options for early voting and formalizes provisions that were convenient for voters during the pandemic. It also codifies the use of mailboxes with strict rules for their use and sets new rules for state and local electoral officials.

Responding to the announcement on Twitter, Kemp said, “This lawsuit was born out of the lies and misinformation that the Biden administration urged against Georgia’s Election Integrity Act from the outset. Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams and their allies tried to force unconstitutional elections to seize power by Congress – and they failed. “

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger responded similarly, adding, “It’s no surprise they are operationalizing their lies with the full force of the federal government. I look forward to meeting them in court and beating them.”

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Simultaneously with the announcement, Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco released a new memo on Friday instructing the FBI and federal prosecutors across the country to investigate, investigate and prosecute threats against election officials and election workers, and announced the creation of a task Force to deal with the rise in threats.

“A threat to any election officer, worker or volunteer is basically a threat to democracy,” Monaco said in the memo. “We will promptly and vigorously pursue criminals to protect the rights of American voters, punish those who engage in this criminal behavior and send the clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated.”

“Several studies show that Georgia had a record voter turnout and turnout in the 2020 election cycle. About two-thirds of the state’s eligible voters cast their votes in the November election, slightly above the national average. This is a reason to celebrate, ”said Garland. “But then in March 2021 the Georgian legislature passed SB 202. Many provisions of this law make it difficult for people to vote.”

“Laws passed with racially motivated intent, like Law 202 of the Georgia Senate, simply have no place in democracy today,” said Clarke. She highlighted the ban on groups that are no longer allowed to give voters food or water in order to make the waiting in the long lines in front of the polling stations more pleasant on election day. Clarke called this particular ban “unnecessary” and claimed it had been shown to be “unlawful discriminatory intent”.

Garland’s announcement was expected even if the timing wasn’t. Two weeks ago he gave a speech in which he promised Enhance Justice Department efforts to protect voting rights in response to the Supreme Court softening federal suffrage law in 2013. He said at the time that the department would confront state and local efforts to “make voting difficult” and investigate electoral laws “to see if they discriminate.” against black voters and other colored voters. ”


Justice Department sued over Georgia voting rights

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On Friday, Garland called on Congress to enact laws that the House of Representatives is currently working on using the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or HR 4, although it has yet to be put in place. The bill would restore Section 5 of the 1965 Suffrage Act, a key provision gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

The Voting Rights Act established a formula to determine which areas should be covered by Section 5, which required countries with a history of racial discrimination to submit amendments to electoral laws to the Department of Justice or a federal chamber of judges for approval, a known practice as pre-clearance. But the Supreme Court overturned the formula in the Shelby County v Holder case exactly eight years ago in a 5-to-4 ideological decision.

On Friday, Garland called Section 5 an “invaluable tool” and said if it were still in place it could have prevented SB 202 from being passed. “With this tool, the department prevented over 175 proposed electoral laws from being passed across Georgia because they failed the legal test. If Georgia had still been covered by Section 5, SB 202 would probably never have come into force. “

The federal lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Georgia is now one of several others seeking redress from the courts after the bill is passed.

Georgia isn’t the only major battlefield state driving electoral change. Three Republican-run states, Arizona, Florida and Texas are the next frontier for electoral law changes – their lawmakers are considering proposals to introduce ID requirements, restrictions on dropboxes, and cuts in private funding for local polling stations.

“Where we believe Americans’ civil rights have been violated, we will not hesitate to act,” Garland said.

Adam Brewster and Caitlin Huey-Burns contributed to this.