Updated Jun 25, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Justice Department sues Georgia over GOP voting restrictions

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Friday that the Department of Justice is suing the state of Georgia over its voting restrictions, alleging that a law passed this spring discriminates against Black voters.

Why it matters: It's the first major action the Biden administration has taken in response to the wave of voting restrictions that Republican-led states have sought to impose in the wake of President Biden's election.

  • In a major policy speech earlier this month, Garland pledged to make voting rights a top priority, doubling the number of enforcement staff dedicated to protecting the right to vote.
  • The lawsuit is being overseen by Kristen Clarke, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela Karlan.
  • Garland also announced Friday that DOJ is launching a task force to investigate and respond to threats against election officials, according to a memo to federal prosecutors and the FBI.

What they're saying: "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, in violation of Section Two of the Voting Rights Act," Garland said at a briefing Friday.

The other side: Georgia's Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in statement after DOJ's announcement: "The Biden administration continues to do the bidding of Stacey Abrams and spread more lies about Georgia's election law. I look forward to meeting them, and beating them, in court."

  • "As Secretary of State, I fought the Obama Justice Department twice to protect the security of our elections — and won," Gov. Brian Kemp (R) said in a statement. "I look forward to going three for three to ensure it’s easy to vote and hard to cheat in Georgia."

Driving the news: Kemp signed the sweeping overhaul to the state's election laws in March.

  • The law, called Georgia’s Election Integrity Act, includes measures that cut the time period voters have to request absentee ballots, limit drop boxes, impose new identification requirements and give greater control of election administration to the state legislature.
  • Voting activists say the measures are intended to target heavily Democratic jurisdictions and will hurt Black and Latino voters the most.

The big picture: The announcement comes just days after Senate Republicans blocked a sweeping voting rights package that would overhaul federal elections and combat state voting restrictions. President Biden has called the Georgia voting law "Jim Crow in the 21st century."

What to watch: "This lawsuit is 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 said.

  • "The Civil Rights Division continues to analyze other state laws that have been passed, and we are following the progress of legislative proposals under consideration in additional states," he continued.
  • "Where we believe the civil rights of Americans have been violated, we will not hesitate to act."

This story has been updated.

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