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The DOJ Is Suing Georgia Over Restrictive New Voting Law

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

There was significant news on another legal front today. In Washington, D.C., Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Justice Department is suing the state of Georgia over its new voting law. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is covering this and joins us now.

First, Ryan, for some context, what does the new Georgia law do?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, remember that Georgia was at the center of the political universe this past year. It flipped from red to blue in the presidential election, sent two new Democratic senators to the U.S. Senate, giving Democrats control of that chamber. A few months after that, in March, Georgia's Republican-led state legislature passed this new voting law, and it makes sweeping changes to how people vote in the state. The Republicans who wrote it say it expands voting access and will improve election administration in voter confidence. Opponents, though, say it is discriminatory and makes it harder for people to vote, particularly people of color. The Justice Department under the Biden administration took a close look at this law, and it has now filed a lawsuit challenging several aspects of it that it says are discriminatory.

CORNISH: So what exactly are they alleging?

LUCAS: The department's lawsuit says that aspects of the law violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. And Section 2 prohibits any voting procedure or process that discriminates based on race, based on color or membership in a language minority. Now, in the case of the Georgia law, the department argues that several provisions make it harder for Blacks in the state to vote, and it does so purposefully. The lawsuit challenges several provisions related to absentee ballots, including a ban on distributing unsolicited absentee ballot applications, shortening the deadline to request an absentee ballot, limitations on the use of absentee ballot drop boxes. Here is Kristen Clarke. She leads the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division.

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KRISTEN CLARKE: The provisions we are challenging reduce access to absentee voting at each step of the process, pushing more Black voters to in-person voting.

LUCAS: And Clarke said when Black voters go to the polls in Georgia, they are more likely than white voters to have to wait in long lines. And she says a provision barring people from passing out food or water to those waiting in line to vote is also discriminatory.

CORNISH: This was such a political battle in Georgia - right? - just getting these laws passed. I mean, what have state officials said?

LUCAS: Well, they're none too thrilled. The state's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, who signed this bill into law - he put out a statement in which he says the lawsuit is, quote, "born out of the lies and misinformation the Biden administration has pushed" against the Georgia law. He accused the Justice Department of being used as a weapon. The Georgia secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, also criticized the department and said that he looks forward to meeting them and beating them in court. Voting rights advocates, in contrast, not surprisingly, welcomed this lawsuit. They say that it is an important step toward defending the rights of Black voters.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In the meantime, what happens now?

LUCAS: Well, this is the first significant action that we've seen out of the Biden Justice Department to protect voting rights and challenge one of more than, really, a dozen new laws passed by GOP-led states that opponents say restrict voting. Here's a bit of what Attorney General Merrick Garland had to say today.

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MERRICK GARLAND: This lawsuit is the first of many steps we are taking to ensure that all eligible voters can cast a vote, that all lawful votes are counted and that every voter has access to accurate information.

LUCAS: Garland has made clear that protecting voting rights is a priority for him and for the Justice Department under his leadership. The Biden administration writ large has. And Garland said that the department is scrutinizing laws in other states, and if the department determines that one of those laws violates the voting rights of Americans, he said that the department will not hesitate to take action.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas.

Thank you for this update.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLYMAR E'S "KELPE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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