WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Friday against the state of Georgia over it’s recently-passed voting law.
“The rights of all eligible citizens to vote are the central pillars of our democracy,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a Friday news conference. “They are the rights from which all other rights ultimately flow.”
In March, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a controversial bill that will impact how Georgia residents will be able to vote in the future. Thirteen other states passed similar restrictive laws.
[READ: Georgia’s full voting law]
“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. “Where we believe the civil rights of Americans have been violated, we will not hesitate to act.”
The lawsuit alleges that the discriminatory effect of these laws on Black Georgians was known to lawmakers and that they adopted them anyway.
Civil Rights division head Kristen Clark said that the suit will target provisions in the bill that make the absentee request period shorter, limit access to ballot drop boxes, make it illegal to provide food and water at polling places, penalize groups for sending duplicate ballot applications and ban the government from sending voters unsolicited applications, among other provisions.
“The Department of Justice will use all the tools it has available to ensure that each eligible citizen can register, cast a ballot, and have that ballot counted free from racial discrimination,” Clark said. “Laws adopted with a racially motivated purpose, like Georgia Senate Bill 202, simply have no place in democracy today.”
[BREAKDOWN: What is in Georgia’s new voting law, also known as SB 202?]
Garland said this was the first of many steps the DOJ will take to make sure all eligible voters can cast a vote nationwide. He said he will use provisions from the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, the Help America Vote Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act” to enforce voting laws and protect voting rights.
Gov. Brian Kemp went on the offensive during a later afternoon news conference from Savannah on Friday.
“Today, the Biden Justice Department launched a politically motivated assault on the rule of law and our democracy. Just three days ago, a top legislative priority of the Biden administration and their far-left allies was stopped in the United States Senate,” Kemp said. “Because Republicans stood firm, this unconstitutional power grab was thankfully stopped in its tracks. And now because the American people stood up against their agenda, the Biden administration is weaponizing the Department of Justice to serve their own partisan goals.”
Kemp said the suit was born out of lies and misinformation.
[READ: Getting both sides: Chairs of Republican, Democratic Parties debate the details of new voting law]
“Let me be clear, the DOJ lawsuit announced today is legally and constitutionally dead wrong. Their false and baseless accusations are quite honestly disgusting. But I can’t say that I’m surprised. The president and his administration, Stacey Abrams and their far-left allies have lied about the Election Integrity Act from the beginning. Even the mainstream media fact checkers have called him out multiple times.,” Kemp said. “I’m not backing down. And I could tell you that Joe Biden, Stacey Abrams and Merrick Garland don’t scare me.”
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger also pushed back against the announcement Friday, telling Channel 2 Action News that Biden is politicizing the Department of Justice by pursing false attacks put forth by people like Stacey Abrams.
“They will find out the hard way that Abrams doesn’t make legal arguments that stand up in court. She makes cynical fundraising appeals that enrage her base and enrich her,” Raffensperger said.
The ACLU of Georgia said it is pleased with the decision.
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“The Justice Department now has leaders with tremendous experience in civil rights enforcement, and we are very pleased to have them enter the fray on the side of our democracy.” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.
The lawsuit comes two weeks after Garland said the Justice Department would scrutinize a wave of new laws in Republican-controlled states that tighten voting rules. He pledged to take action if prosecutors found unlawful activity.
The move also comes as pressure grows on the Biden administration to respond to GOP-backed laws being pushed in several states this year. An effort to overhaul election laws was blocked this week by Republican senators.
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Among the highlights, the law requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“After the November election last year, I knew like so many of you that significant reforms to our state elections were needed,” Kemp said in a news conference after he signed the bill. “When voting in person in the state of Georgia, you must have a photo ID. It only makes sense for the same standard to apply to absentee ballots as well.”
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler said the bill was filled with “voter suppression tactics.”
“We are witnessing right now a massive and unabashed assault on voting rights unlike anything we’ve seen since the Jim Crow era,” Butler added.
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One of the biggest changes gives the GOP-controlled legislature more control over election administration, a change that has raised concerns among voting rights groups that it could lead to greater partisan influence.
The law replaces the elected secretary of state as the chair of the state election board with a new appointee of the legislature, after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger rebuffed former President Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn Georgia’s election results. It also allows the board to remove and replace county election officials deemed to be underperforming.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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