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DOJ to sue Georgia over voting rights law

ABC News logo ABC News 6/25/2021
Lisa Monaco, Merrick Garland, Vanita Gupta are posing for a picture © Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Friday that the Justice Department is filing suit against the state of Georgia over its sweeping election law recently passed by Republicans, alleging it violates the federal Voting Rights Act by seeking to disenfranchise Black voters.

"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 Two of the Voting Rights Act," Garland said.

Garland said the bill signed into law earlier this year by Gov. Brian Kemp includes provisions that "make it harder for people to vote," and the complaint being filed by the department alleges the restrictions were passed "with the purpose of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color."

MORE: Democrats, voting rights advocates blast new Georgia election bill

For months, President Joe Biden and other Democrats have been heavily critical of Georgia Republicans and Kemp for signing Georgia's voting bill into law, equating it to "Jim Crow-era" segregation laws while arguing it's premised on the lie that widespread fraud tainted the 2020 election.

The department's lawsuit will be separate from seven other lawsuits that have been filed against the state of Georgia since the election bill was signed into law in March.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the department's Civil Rights Division said the DOJ's suit will specifically challenge provisions of the law that she said aim to reduce access to absentee voting for Black voters that the department alleges will make it more likely they will have to stand in longer lines than white voters.

Lisa Monaco, Merrick Garland, Vanita Gupta are posing for a picture: Attorney General Merrick Garland announces a voting rights enforcement action against the state of Georgia at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on June 25, 2021. © Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images Attorney General Merrick Garland announces a voting rights enforcement action against the state of Georgia at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., on June 25, 2021.

"The changes to absentee voting were not made in a vacuum," Clarke said. "These changes come immediately after successful absentee voting in the 2020 election cycle, especially among Black voters. SB 202 seeks to halt and reverse this progress."

Clarke said the law also "irrationally shortens" the period voters can request absentee ballots and the period during which election officials can mail them to voters in the 2020 election. The lawsuit will also challenge a provision from the law that places restrictions on the use of drop boxes, Clarke said.

MORE: Breaking down claims about Georgia's election law: What's true and what's not?

Garland had signaled just last week that the department's Civil Rights Division would be taking a more aggressive stance against efforts to curb voting rights and voter access, saying in a speech that over the next 30 days he would seek to double the number of staff who handle voting rights protections.

"We are scrutinizing new laws that seek to curb voter access, and where we see violations, we will not hesitate to act," Garland said. "We are also scrutinizing current laws and practices in order to determine whether they discriminate against Black voters and other voters of color."

MORE: Kemp signs sweeping elections bill passed by Georgia legislature. Here's what's in it.

At least 15 GOP-led states have enacted legislation with restrictive voting provisions in the 2021 legislative session, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Garland told reporters Friday that officials in the department's civil rights section are actively reviewing election laws across the country for potential violations of federal law and will not hesitate to bring similar action to what they are now bringing against Georgia.

Kemp issued a statement following Garland's announcement accusing the Biden Administration of "weaponizing" the Justice Department "to carry out their far-left agenda that undermines election integrity and empowers federal government overreach in our democracy."

"This lawsuit is born out of the lies and misinformation the Biden administration has pushed against Georgia’s Election Integrity Act from the start," Kemp said.

Georgia's Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger reacted to news of the lawsuit with a statement accusing Biden's DOJ of spreading "lies" about the state's election law.

"It is no surprise that they would operationalize their lies with the full force of the federal government," Raffensperger said. "I look forward to meeting them, and beating them, in court."

ABC News' Quinn Scanlan contributed to this report.

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