The Department of Justice is suing Georgia, alleging a recently passed election law violates the Voting Rights Act’s protections for minority voters, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday.
“Where we see violations of federal law, we will act,” Garland said at a news conference.
Garland said Georgia’s election reform law was enacted “with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their 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 lawful votes are counted, and that every voter has access to accurate information.”
Garland announced the federal suit about three months after Republican Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia signed the election overhaul bill passed by the state’s GOP-controlled legislature.
The law reportedly enacts a slew of restrictive and potentially confusing measures that critics allege will harm turnout, especially in Democrat and minority heavy urban and suburban counties.
The changes sparked a national outcry from Democrats and voting rights groups. Major businesses and organizations such as Coca-Cola and the NCAA also protested the Peach State’s action.
Kemp later Friday blasted the DOJ’s lawsuit and accused Democrats, including President Joe Biden and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, of “weaponizing” the agency.
“This lawsuit is born out of the lies and misinformation the Biden administration has pushed against Georgia’s Election Integrity Act from the start,” Kemp said in a statement.
“Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams, and their allies tried to force an unconstitutional elections power grab through Congress – and failed. Now, they are weaponizing the U.S. Department of Justice to carry out their far-left agenda that undermines election integrity and empowers federal government overreach in our democracy.”
The governor insisted that the election law he signed is intended to ensure that “it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat in Georgia.”
Kemp’s state is not alone in enacting voter restrictions. Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a similar law in May, while other state legislatures across the country are considering legislation.
In Texas, Democrats recently thwarted passage of a restrictive voting bill. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has vowed to revive it.
Garland promised Friday that the Biden administration’s Justice Department is “scrutinizing new laws that seek to curb voter access.”
Garland said it was cause for celebration that Georgia saw record-breaking turnout during the 2020 election. But SB 202, which was signed in March, contained numerous provisions that “make it harder for people to vote,” he said.
The historically Republican-leaning state broke for Biden over former President Donald Trump, an upset victory that Trump still refuses to accept.
Trump’s conspiracy theories that widespread fraud cost him reelection helped to fuel restrictive voting bills around the country.
As part of the DOJ’s efforts to protect and expand voting access, Garland also called on Congress to restore a federal provision that the Supreme Court de-fanged in the landmark 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder.
That measure, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, required that certain jurisdictions’ proposed changes to their voting rules could not be enforced until they proved to federal authorities that those changes did not deny or abridge voting rights on account of race, color or minority status.
“If Georgia had still been covered by Section 5, it is likely that SB 202 would never have taken effect,” Garland said. “We urge Congress to restore this invaluable tool.”
Garland also said his department’s civil rights division will publish new guidance to help ensure post-election audits — several controversial examples of which are underway in key states — comply with federal law.
The division is also working on guidance regarding early voting and mail-in voting, as well as guidance that clarifies the protections that apply to districts as states redraw their maps, Garland said.
The attorney general also noted a “dramatic increase in menacing and violent threats” against election officials at all levels, “ranging from the highest administrators to volunteer poll workers.”
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco will issue a directive instructing federal prosecutors to prioritize investigating these threats, Garland said.
Democratic leaders and the Biden administration have pushed for the passage of a sweeping bill to overhaul election rules. They argue the legislation, dubbed the “For The People Act,” enacts a bevy of safeguards to shield voters against suppression efforts and other attacks on voting rights.
Republicans have slammed the “radical” bill as as a naked power grab that would tilt all elections in favor of the Democrats.
Senate Republicans on Tuesday blocked the bill from advancing in their chamber.