The Biden Justice Department filed a lawsuit Friday against Georgia arguing the state’s new voting law discriminates against Black voters.
Federal officials say Georgia lawmakers rushed to pass the law despite knowing certain provisions are discriminatory, including increasing photo ID requirements and limiting use of ballot drop boxes. The law was touted by the legislature’s Republican majority as a way to reduce voter fraud, but the Justice Department said the effect will be to prevent eligible residents from voting.
“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,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a briefing Friday.
The suit comes two weeks after Mr. Garland vowed to expand the department’s efforts to protect voting rights, as Republican-majority state legislatures consider a variety of voter regulations. He reiterated the commitment Friday, saying that “where we see violations of federal law, we will act.”
“This lawsuit is the first step of many 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,” he said.
Georgia Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and the White House traded charges Friday as the action was announced, with Mr. Kemp accusing the administration of “weaponizing” the Justice Department to carry out a “far-left agenda.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki pushed back, saying it was Mr. Kemp who was “afraid” to expand voting access.
“If you have such a fear of making it easier and more accessible for people to vote, then I would ask what you are so afraid of?” she told reporters at the White House.
President Biden has stressed the independence of the Justice Department, but Ms. Psaki noted that the action was consistent with the president’s priorities.
“It was a decision made by the Justice Department to move forward, but it’s clearly a priority of the president to take action wherever we can to make it more accessible to vote,” she said.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who certified President Biden’s victory in the state in November, promised to fight the federal suit, saying that he looks forward to “meeting them, and beating them, in court.”
“The Biden administration has been spreading lies about Georgia’s election law for months,” the Republican official said in a statement. “It is no surprise that they would operationalize their lies with the full force of the federal government.”
Mr. Raffensperger faced backlash last year from then-President Trump for rejecting attempts to overturn results of the state’s 2020 presidential election, which Mr. Trump’s followers insist was stolen from him through widespread voter fraud.
Mr. Trump alluded to the spat in a statement Friday, telling Georgia residents that they should be the ones filing suit.
“The people of Georgia should sue the state, and their elected officials, for running a corrupt and rigged 2020 presidential election — and for trying to suppress the vote of the American people in Georgia,” Mr. Trump said. He warned that if voter integrity “issues” from the 2020 election are not addressed, then “we allow the radical left Democrats to continue to politicize the DOJ and law enforcement [and] we will lose our country.”
Democrats have been pressuring the Biden administration to address the onslaught of Republican-backed voter measures circulating throughout state legislatures. Earlier this week, Senate Republicans blocked a sweeping voting rights measure backed by Democrats and endorsed by Mr. Biden.
Democratic voting activist Stacey Abrams, formerly the Democratic minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, tweeted Friday that the lawsuit shows “Americans have an ally on voting rights — regardless of race, party or ZIP code” — in the Biden Justice Department.
“Thank you … for defending Georgians against this assault on our freedom to vote,” tweeted Ms. Abrams, who was widely credited with helping Mr. Biden carry the state and electing two Democrats in senatorial races in Georgia last year.
Next week, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on a state’s authority to alter its voting laws in a case concerning Arizona.
The Democratic Party’s lawsuit, originally filed in 2016, aimed to ease Arizona’s restrictions on ballot harvesting and other election practices. The district court ruled for Arizona, but on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled for the Democrats and said the state had enacted its election laws with discriminatory intent.
• Jeff Mordock contributed to this report.