Wednesday, July 14, 2021

No. 429: The U.S. Department of Justice Sues Georgia over the State's New Voter Suppression Law

In No. 415 (April 5, 2021), I discussed a lawsuit challenging Georgia's recent election law, often called Senate Bill 202 (SB 202). It was enacted in March 2021 by the Republican-controlled legislature, and signed by Governor Brian Kemp, a supporter of former president Trump. The private signing ceremony was attended by several white men in front of a painting that appears to be an old southern plantation. The new law is called an "election security law" by proponents, and a "voter suppression law" by opponents. If the Republicans dislike the election result in any county or precinct, the new law would allow the result to be altered to their liking.

The DOJ Complaint
On June 25, 2021, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a 46-page complaint against Georgia, its election board, and its Secretary of State. Attached to the complaint is a 99-page exhibit showing SB 202. (See U.S.A. v. Georgia, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Georgia, Case No. 1:21-cv-2575.)

DOJ alleges that SB 202 was enacted "with knowledge of the disproportionate effect that the challenged provisions . . . would have on Black voters' ability to participate in the political process on an equal basis with white voters." DOJ asks the court for declaratory relief and injunctive relief. Specifically, DOJ seeks an order declaring that the challenged provisions of SB 202 violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the voting guarantees of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. DOJ also seeks an order enjoining the defendants from enforcing the challenged provisions, authorizing appointment of Federal observers to observe elections in Georgia, retaining jurisdiction, and requiring certain new voting changes in Georgia.

The Judge
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Jean-Paul "J.P." Boulee. President Trump nominated him in July 2018. The Senate confirmed him in June 2019.

The Supreme Court Ruling
On July 1, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a major opinion relating to the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Court ruled 6 to 3, along political lines, in favor of the Arizona Republican Party and against the Democratic National Committee. The majority opinion was written by Justice Alito, with which the other five conservatives concurred. Justice Gorsuch wrote a concurring opinion with which Justice Thomas concurred. Justice Kagan wrote a strong dissent, with which Justices Breyer and Sotomayor concurred. It remains to be seen what effect the Supreme Court's ruling will have on the DOJ's lawsuit against Georgia. (See Arizona Republican Party v. Democratic National Committee, U.S. Supreme Court, Case Nos. 19-1257 and 19-1258.)

General Observations
The DOJ lawsuit against Georgia is an important case. Also, it raises the question of whether DOJ will take similar action in other states where voter suppression laws have been enacted recently. Readers are encouraged to review No. 415, the DOJ complaint, and SB 202, each of which is available via a link above.