The lawsuit alleges that the Georgia law was enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the rights of Black voters in the state. The Justice Department says Georgia’s law was passed through a rushed process that departed from normal procedure, and contained provisions ― including limits on drop boxes for absentee ballots and on providing food and water to voters waiting in long lines ― that were passed with unlawful discriminatory intent.
The Georgia legislature enacted the law “with knowledge of the disproportionate effect that these provisions … would have on Black voters’ ability to participate in the political process on an equal basis with white voters,” the suit says. The complaint noted that an “overall rise in Black political success” in recent years in Georgia “occurred against the backdrop of virulent racial appeals” including racist robocalls aimed at Stacey Abrams. The lawsuit also points to anti-Semitic attacks on now-Sen. Jon Ossoff and racist attacks on now-Sen. Raphael Warnock.
“One phone caller threatened to behead Reverend Warnock and referred to the church at which he is a pastor, Ebenezer Baptist ― the church once pastored by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. ― using a vile racial epithet. The church had to filter comments on its social media pages given the significant number of racist comments relating to Rev. Warnock’s candidacy,” the Justice Department lawsuit states.
Though the lawsuit doesn’t name him, the Justice Department also points to an event in which former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) “mispronounced and mocked the pronunciation of then-Senator Kamala Harris’ first name during a campaign event, despite having been her Senate colleague for four years.”
Despite the fact that claims about mass fraud in the election have been debunked, the lawsuit said, “white state legislators persistently relied on these debunked allegations of voter fraud to justify their enactment of SB 202, even after being warned by other legislators about the disproportionately negative effects the bill would have on Black Georgians’ ability to cast ballots.”
The lawsuit is being filed eight years to the day after the Supreme Court, in a majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those provisions required states with a history of racist voting laws to get preclearance from the federal government before implementing new voting laws.
Three longtime voting rights advocates ― Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pam Karlan ― now hold key positions at the Justice Department.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said earlier this month that the Biden administration would “rededicate the resources of the Department of Justice to a critical part of its original mission: enforcing federal law to protect the franchise for all eligible voters.”
The department plans to hire additional staff to work on voting rights cases. Garland said the department would double its staff within 30 days.
“There are many things open to debate in America,” Garland said. “But the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.”