The Justice Department is suing Georgia, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday that a recently passed electoral law violates the protection of the voting rights law for minority voters.
“Wherever we see federal law violations, we will act,” Garland said at a press conference.
Garland said Georgia’s electoral reform law was “enacted with the aim of denying or restricting black Georgians the right to vote on the basis of race or color.”
He called the Justice Department’s new lawsuit “the first of many steps we are taking to ensure that all eligible voters can cast a vote,” that all legitimate votes are counted and that every voter has access to accurate information.
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Garland quit the federal lawsuit about three months after Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed the GOP-controlled state legislature passed the electoral revision bill.
The law has reportedly enacted a range of restrictive and potentially confusing measures that critics claim will affect voter turnout, especially in democratic and minority urban and suburban counties.
The changes sparked a national outcry among Democrats and constituencies. Large corporations and organizations such as Coca-Cola and the NCAA also protested the Peach State’s actions.
Kemp later disrupted the DOJ’s lawsuit on Friday, accusing Democrats, including President Joe Biden and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, of “armed” the agency.
“This lawsuit is born out of the lies and misinformation that the Biden government urged against Georgia’s electoral integrity law from the outset,” Kemp said in a statement.
“Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams and their allies tried to force an unconstitutional takeover of power by Congress – and failed to overwhelm our democracy.”
The governor insisted that the electoral law he signed should ensure that “it is easy to vote in Georgia and difficult to cheat”.
Kemp’s state isn’t the only one putting voting restrictions in place. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a similar bill in May, while other state parliaments across the country are considering legislation.
In Texas, the Democrats recently thwarted the passage of a restrictive voting law. Republican Governor Greg Abbott has vowed to revive it.
Garland promised Friday that the Biden government’s Justice Department would “look into new laws aimed at restricting voter access”.
Garland said it was cause for celebration that Georgia had a record turnout in the 2020 election. But SB 202, signed in March, contains numerous provisions that “make it difficult for people to vote,” he said.
The historically republican state fell apart for Biden over former President Donald Trump, an angry victory that Trump still rejects.
Trump’s conspiracy theories that widespread fraud were costing him re-election helped fuel restrictive voting laws across the country.
As part of the DOJ’s efforts to protect and expand access to voting, Garland also urged Congress to restore a federal provision that the Supreme Court placed in the landmark Shelby County v. Holder from 2013 defused.
That measure, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, required that certain jurisdictions’ proposed changes to their electoral rules could not be enforced until they demonstrated to federal authorities that those changes did not deny or restrict voting rights based on race, color, or minority status.
“If Georgia had still been covered by Section 5, SB 202 would likely never have taken effect,” Garland said. “We urge Congress to restore this invaluable tool.”
Garland also said his division’s civil rights division will publish new guidance to ensure post-election audits – several of which are controversial examples running in key states – comply with federal law.
The department is also working on guidelines for early voting and mail-in voting, as well as guidelines clarifying protections for districts when redesigning their maps, Garland said.
The attorney general also noted a “dramatic increase in threats and violent threats” against election officials at all levels, “from senior administrators to volunteer electoral workers”.
Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco will issue an order directing federal prosecutors to prioritize investigations into these threats, Garland said.
The Democratic leaders and the Biden government have pushed for the passage of a comprehensive bill to revise the electoral rules. They argue that legislation known as the “For The People Act” provides a variety of safeguards to protect voters from repression and other attacks on the right to vote.
Republicans have criticized the “radical” law as a naked seizure of power that would overturn all elections in favor of the Democrats.
The Republicans in the Senate blocked the submission of the bill in their chamber on Tuesday.