The Department of Justice is suing Georgia over its GOP-backed election law, alleging it discriminates against Black voters

Merrick Garland
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks about voting rights at the Justice Department in Washington, on Friday, June 11, 2021. Tom Brenner/The New York Times via AP, Pool
  • The Department of Justice is suing Georgia over a major election law passed this spring.
  • It’s the Department’s first major voting rights enforcement action of the Biden administration.
  • SB 202 made changes to nearly every aspect of Georgia’s elections and the DOJ alleges it discriminates against Black voters.
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The Department of Justice is suing Georgia over a major GOP-backed election bill under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced at a Friday news conference.

“Our complaint alleges that recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color,” Garland said.

The lawsuit over Georgia’s voting law is the DOJ’s first major voting rights enforcement action of the Biden administration. It comes after Garland said in a recent speech that the DOJ will double its staff working on voting rights enforcement in the Civil Rights Division and commit to enforcing voting rights law.

The leader of the Civil Rights Division, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, is a prominent voting rights advocate who previously led the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

Senate Bill 202, passed along party lines and signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in late March, makes sweeping changes to nearly every aspect of Georgia’s elections and was widely condemned by Democrats and civil rights groups alike.

“The Biden administration continues to bidding of Stacey Abrams and spreads more lies about Georgia’s election law,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s chief election official, said in a statement, adding, “It is no surprise that they would operationalize their lies with the full force of the federal government. I look forward to meeting them, and beating them, in court.”

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The law sets new standards for early voting hours, requires voters to submit identification information when voting absentee, codifies ballot drop boxes into law and sets new regulations for their use, shortens the window between general elections and runoffs, and tightens limits on giving out items like water and food to voters in line.

“The Civil Rights Division did not arrive at this decision lightly,” Clarke said of the lawsuit. “It’s our job to follow the facts and the law and in this case, our careful assessment of both the facts and the law demonstrates that Georgia’s recent voting rights law violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”

The DOJ’s lawsuit over the Georgia voting law specifically alleges that the new rules around absentee voting, like narrowing the window for voters to request an absentee ballot and setting new regulations on drop boxes, directly discriminate against Black voters by pushing them towards in-person voting where they are more likely to face long lines.

“After a historic election that saw record voter turnout across the state, particularly for absentee voting, which Black voters are now more likely to use than white voters, our complaint challenges several provisions of SB 202 on the grounds that they were adopted with the intent to deny or abridge Black citizens equal access to the political process,” Clarke added.

The DOJ is also suing over a provision in the Georgia law preventing most out-of-precinct provisional ballots from being counted. A similar law limiting out-of-precinct voting that passed in Arizona in 2016 is at the center of a Supreme Court case, DNC v. Brnovich, which the court will issue a ruling on in the next week.

SB 2o2’s potentially more consequential provisions include demoting Raffensperger from chairing the State Elections Board to a non-voting member, giving the State Elections Board more power to discipline and temporarily remove local election officials, and forbidding local election administrators from accepting private grants to run elections.

Numerous civil rights groups have already filed seven lawsuits over the law in federal court, arguing that its provisions violate the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.