ATLANTA — Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Friday that the U.S. government would sue the state of Georgia in an attempt to nullify portions of the voting law enacted this year.
Since the law was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in March, it's been targeted by Democrats who have witheringly criticized it as an attack on voting rights and equivalent to "Jim Crow 2.0."
On Friday, the Justice Department effectively endorsed that line of criticism.
Federal officials made clear both in a morning press conference and in documents released announcing the move that they see the Georgia voting law as an explicit attempt to minimize the participation of Black voters.
Garland said the law, SB 202, was "enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color."
A press release issued by the DoJ said the purpose of the suit was to "stop racially discriminatory provisions" of the law, and in a fact sheet the DoJ said it is alleging in its lawsuit that "the cumulative and discriminatory effect of these laws - particularly on Black voters - was known to lawmakers and that lawmakers adopted the law in spite of this."
In a word, the government is calling Georgia's voting law racist. The lawsuit is intended to stop much of it from being implemented.
Georgia's Republican officials - including Gov. Brian Kemp and Sec. of State Brad Raffensperger - have adamantly denied this. Kemp in a statement said the lawsuit was founded on "lies and misinformation."
Gov. Kemp held a press conference Friday at 4 p.m. in Savannah in response to the lawsuit.
"Let me be clear, the DOJ lawsuit announced here today is legally and constitutional dead wrong. Their faults and faceless accusations are quite honestly disgusting but I can't say that I'm surprised," he said.
"This is the truth, SB202 ensures Georgia elections are secure, accessible and fair. It expands access to early voting, ensures that drop boxes are available in every county and secured around the clock," Gov. Kemp continued. "It implements voter ID for absentee ballots, which nearly every poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans support."
Gov. Kemp also said in the conference he is not backing down.
The government, for its part, laid out in the fact sheet the exact provisions of the law it objects to:
- "A provision banning government entities from distributing unsolicited absentee ballot applications."
- "The imposition of costly and onerous fines on civic organizations, churches and advocacy groups that distribute follow-up absentee ballot applications."
- "The shortening of the deadline to request absentee ballots to 11 days before Election Day."
- "The requirement that voters who do not have identification issued by the Georgia Department of Driver Services photocopy another form of identification in order to request an absentee ballot without allowing for use of the last four digits of a social security number for such applications.
- "Significant limitations on counties’ use of absentee ballot drop boxes."
- "The prohibition on efforts by churches and civic groups to provide food or water to persons waiting in long lines to vote."
- "The prohibition on counting out-of-precinct provisional ballots cast before 5 p.m. on Election Day."
The lawsuit also reportedly seeks to re-establish federal oversight of Georgia election law, by requiring the state to receive federal clearance to make any changes to voting laws.
Georgia and several other states used to be subject to these pre-clearance requirements under a provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby v. Holder in 2013 held that pre-clearance was no longer necessary, freeing those states of the requirement.
It will now be up to a federal court to determine how the Georgia voting law proceeds, with the potential that it could again bring voting rights issues all the way to the Supreme Court.