The Justice Department announced on Friday that it is suing the state of Georgia over its new voting restrictions, marking the first step in the Biden administration’s plan to aggressively fight a wave of voter suppression bills passed in the wake of Trump’s election loss.
“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 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a press conference.
He said the lawsuit is the first of “many efforts” to ensure every voter has access to the ballot box.
The lawsuit is being overseen by Kristen Clarke, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and Vanita Gupta, the associate attorney general.
“The Civil Rights Division did not arrive at this decision lightly,” Clarke said on Friday, adding that several provisions of Georgia’s new legislation were made with a “discriminatory purpose in violation of the Voting Rights Act.”
She said the legislation demonstrated what she called “intent to deny or abridge” Black citizens’ access to voting, and came as Georgia had made massive strides in voter turnout during the 2020 elections.
Georgia’s new legislation, signed into law in March, hands greater control over election administration to the GOP-controlled state legislature. It comes as Republicans angle to impose voting restrictions in the wake of President Biden’s victory after former President Donald Trump waged a months-long campaign falsely alleging widespread voter fraud.
Biden has called the Peach State’s restrictive legislation “Jim Crow in the 21st Century.’’
Gov. Brian Kemp has insisted that there is “nothing Jim Crow” about the Georgia law even though it includes a bundle of provisions that create obstacles, particularly for absentee voting, like strict ID requirements, less time to request ballots and fewer drop boxes.
Clarke on Friday called the stricter ID requirements “unnecessarily stringent.” Among other changes, the law also makes it a crime for outside groups to provide food and water to voters waiting at polling stations.
On Tuesday, Biden said he would speak out more aggressively on voting rights after Republicans filibustered a debate on S.1, the Democrats’ sweeping reform bill known as the “For the People Act.”
Earlier this month, Garland said his department would double the number of attorneys working on voter suppression issues, and would “not wait” to act as he urged Congress to pass Democrats’ elections legislation.
The Georgia lawsuit is the first major voting rights case filed under the Biden administration.
Florida and Iowa have also passed laws imposing new voting restrictions. Voting law overhauls are also under consideration in Texas, New Hampshire, Arizona, and Michigan, among other states.