The Justice Department is suing Georgia over its comprehensive electoral law recently passed by the Republicans, claiming it violates federal electoral law by attempting to deny black voters the right to vote.
“Our complaint alleges that 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 skin color, in violation of Section 2 of the Suffrage Act,” Attorney General Merrick said Garland said Friday .
Garland said the bill, signed by Republican Governor Brian Kemp earlier this year, contains provisions that “make it harder for people to vote,” and the department’s complaint claims the restrictions are “with the aim of denial or curtailment “The right to vote has been passed because of race or skin color.”
For months, President Joe Biden and other Democrats have criticized Georgia and Kemp Republicans for enacting Georgia’s voting law and equating it with the “Jim Crow era” racial segregation laws, arguing that it was based on the lie that widespread fraud tainted 2020 election.
The department’s lawsuit is separated from seven other lawsuits filed against the state of Georgia since the electoral law was signed in March.
Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarke, of the Department of Civil Rights at the department, said the DOJ’s lawsuit will specifically challenge legal provisions, which she believes are aimed at reducing access to postal voting for black voters, which the department claims she has make it more likely to face longer lines than white voters.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announces at the Department of Justice in Washington, DC, on June 25, 2021, a campaign to enforce voting rights against the state of Georgia.
“The postal voting changes weren’t made in a vacuum,” said Clarke. “These changes come immediately after a successful postal vote in the 2020 election cycle, especially with black voters. SB 202 tries to stop and reverse this progress.”
Clarke said the law also “irrationally” shortens the time voters can request postal ballot papers and the time electoral officials can send them to voters in the 2020 election. The lawsuit will also challenge a provision of the law that restricts the use of mailboxes, Clarke said.
Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco has also issued an order to all federal prosecutors and the FBI instructing them to prioritize investigations and prosecutions of those who threatened election officials, Garland said.
In the memo, Monaco announced that the department had set up a task force comprising members of the DOJ’s Criminal Division, Civil Rights Division, National Security Division, and FBI to deal with what it called a “significant increase” such threats in recent months.
“A threat to any election officer, worker or volunteer is basically a threat to democracy,” Monaco says 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.”
Garland also recognized recent efforts by Republicans to “audits” the 2020 election censuses, saying the department is developing guidelines to ensure they are complying with federal law. The department will also release new guidance related to the upcoming redistribution of Congress after the 2020 census, Garland said.
Garland had signaled just last week that the civil rights division of the ministry would take a more aggressive stance on efforts to restrict voting and voter access, and said in a speech that he would try to double the number of staff on voting rights protection in the next 30 days .
“We are reviewing new laws aimed at restricting access to voters and if we find violations we will not hesitate to act,” Garland said. “We are also reviewing current laws and practices to see if they discriminate against black voters and other colored voters.”
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 15 GOP-led states passed laws with restrictive voting rules in the 2021 legislature. Garland told reporters Friday that officials from the civil rights division of the department will be actively reviewing electoral laws across the country for possible federal violations and will not hesitate to take action similar to what they are now cracking down on Georgia.
Following Garland’s announcement, Kemp issued a statement accusing the Biden administration of “arming the Justice Department” to implement its left-wing extremist agenda that undermines electoral integrity and strengthens the supremacy of the federal government in our democracy.
“This lawsuit is born out of the lies and misinformation that the Biden government pushed against Georgia’s electoral integrity law from the outset,” said Kemp.
ABC News asked White House press secretary Jen Psaki during the daily briefing if there was any response to Kemp’s claim that Biden was “arming” the Justice Department.
“I would say if you are so afraid of making voting easier and more accessible for people, I would ask you what you are so afraid of,” said Psaki.
Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger responded to news of the lawsuit with a statement accusing Biden’s DOJ of telling “lies” about the state’s electoral law.
“It is no surprise that they are operationalizing their lies with the full force of the federal government,” said Raffensperger. “I look forward to meeting you and beating you in court.”
But NAACP President Derrick Johnson welcomed the DOJ’s announcement and said in a statement that it spoke on the “urgency” of the matter.
“Jim Crow’s recent electoral laws in Georgia are a blatant attack on the most basic and sacred right of the American people, the right to vote,” he said. “Today’s announcement by the Attorney General speaks to the urgency that is needed to protect our fragile democracy and to ensure that all voices are heard. We are in a race against time and against those who devalue us.”
Bishop Reginald Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME), which includes over 500 churches in Georgia, also applauded the Justice Department on Friday.
“For months, GA religious leaders have been pleading the whole country to review the racist and unjust laws that have been rolled over into our state,” Jackson said in a statement. “We are grateful for the Justice Department’s decision.”
The AME’s sixth district is a plaintiff in one of seven other lawsuits filed against Georgia’s law.
In April, Jackson and other religious leaders, who represent over 1,000 churches, called for a nationwide boycott of Home Depot because they believed they were on the verge of the state’s voting rights.
ABC News’ Beatrice Peterson contributed to this report.