Biden DOJ Sees Georgia Suppressing Black Voters, Brings Receipts In This Lawsuit Right Here
Congratulations, Georgia, you are SUED!
Last Friday was the eight-year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder , which is the Plessy v. Ferguson of our time. In Shelby County , the fascist wing of the Supreme Court invalidated important parts of the Voting Rights Act, AKA the federal law that finally protected the right of Black Americans to vote.
Merrick Garland's Department of Justice decided to mark the anniversary appropriately: by filing an important lawsuit against Georgia's latest attempt to stop Black people from voting.
Fuck you, Georgia
Georgia really loves it some voter disenfranchisement — and this is nothing new. At the height of Jim Crow era , Georgia did everything it could to deny its Black citizens the vote. As secretary of state, now-Georgia GOP Governor Brian Kemp was essentially in charge of the state's official voter suppression program when he ran against Stacey Abrams in 2018.
Things have only gotten worse since then. After going blue in the 2020 presidential election and electing two Democratic US senators — including the state's first Black senator! — the state's Republicans have decided to go full Jim Crow . During Georgia's most recent legislative session, Georgia Republicans just went all out with their ratfucking, eventually adding the draconian text of Senate Bill 202 to their state's election laws.
The parts of the law the DOJ is challenging include:
Banning people from passing out food or water to people waiting in line to vote.
Stopping the government from sending out unsolicited absentee ballots.
Fining organizations that send out duplicate or follow-up absentee ballot applications.
Forcing voters without an ID issued by the Georgia DMV to photocopy another ID to request an absentee ballot.
Limiting how long voters have to request absentee ballots.
Prohibiting the counting of out-of-precinct provisional ballots cast before 5 p.m. on Election Day.
The complaint argues that not only did Georgia enact "SB 202 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," but also that the Georgia legislature actually "intended to deny or abridge the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of race or color."
Unsurprisingly, since it was exactly the point all along, there is a mountain of evidence that Georgia's new voter suppression law was enacted to try to stop Black people from voting. Like the complaint notes,
The legislature passed the bill against the backdrop of:
• Georgia's history of discrimination against Black Georgians, demographic shifts in the state leading to an increase in the number of Black voters and other voters of color;
• A dramatic increase in Black Georgians' use of absentee voting[;]
• Heavily publicized Black voter mobilization efforts (including efforts to overcome long lines in precincts serving Black voters); and
• Black Georgians' unprecedented recent successes in electing candidates of choice.
So let's talk about the Voting Rights Act!
The Voting Rights Act used to make states like Georgia — those with a well-documented history of racist voter suppression laws — get changes to their voting laws cleared by the US attorney general or a three-judge panel in the district court in DC. As the complaint notes, between 1968 and 2013, the DOJ objected to at least 177 of Georgia's proposed changes because "the State had failed to show that the proposed changes would not have the purpose or effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color or membership in a language minority group."
That all changed in 2013, when Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder . In Shelby County , again, the fascist wing of the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that
Black people really shouldn't be voting, anywaySection 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, which ended up effectively defanging Section 5. That was the part that required historically racist state to get permissions slips from the federal government to enact new voting laws. (Hit the link if you need to refresh yourself on all the sections of the act.) Since then, states all across the country have re-upped their voter suppression tactics.
This case wasn't filed under Section 5 -- since, ya know, it no longer really exists -- but it's still based on the Voting Rights Act, this time under Sections 2 and 12(d). In Georgia alone, plaintiffs have won at least 74 and settled at least 69 lawsuits brought under Section 2 of the VRA since 1982.
Unfortunately, we may only have a few hours left of Section 2 enforcement. We are alllllllmostdone with SCOTUS season, but we aren't quite there yet, and tomorrow is widely expected to be the last decision day of the season. One of the opinions we're still waiting on is Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee , which gives the Court the opportunity to further gut our federal voting rights protections — and, specifically, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
That said, the Brnovich decision hopefully will not doom US v. Georgia before it even really begins. Brnovich is mostly about the current test used for VRA violations that have a disparate impact on voters of color, which lawyers call the "results test." In this case, on the other hand, the DOJ is arguing Georgia is intentionally discriminating against its Black voters, which uses a different test to figure out whether the VRA has been violated.
Aww, a DOJ Civil Rights Division that cares about civil rights!
It's great to have an executive branch that doesn't actively hate and target people of color.
Both Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta (who ran the DOJ's civil rights division under Obama) and DOJ Civil Rights chief Kristen Clarke were with Garland to announce the new suit. As Clarke said,
"The right to vote is one of the most central rights in our democracy and protecting the right to vote for all Americans is at the core of the Civil Rights Division's mission. 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. Laws adopted with a racially motivated purpose, like SB 202, simply have no place in democracy today."
The DOJ also took the opportunity to issue a a fact sheet about the case and memo to US attorneys and the FBI about investigating and prosecuting voting rights violations. The DOJ is doubling the size of the Civil Rights Division's voting rights staff, reviewing other states' voting laws for potential federal violations, preparing guidance to states on federal election law, keeping an eye on post-election audits, and working with other agencies to "combat election disinformation that intentionally tries to suppress the vote." It also announced that it's increasing voter registration access to prisoners and detainees in federal custody.
So yay, Biden DOJ! It has never been more important, right now as our entire democratic system is actively under attack, to protect voting rights and expand the right to vote.
Here's the complaint:
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