On Friday, the Biden administration filed suit against Georgia, challenging numerous aspects of the state’s Election Integrity Act of 2021. While many of the allegations contained in the nearly 50-page complaint struck a surreal chord, assessing the merits (or lack thereof) of the lawsuit requires an understanding of the Voting Rights Act. Here’s your lawsplainer.
Last week, the Biden administration, through the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, filed a one-count complaint against the state of Georgia, the Georgia State Election Board, and Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, pursuant to Sections 2 and 12(d) of the Voting Rights Act.
The latter provision, Section 12(d), authorizes the attorney general of the United States to file a civil lawsuit against states and local election officials for alleged violations of the substantive provisions of the Voting Rights Act, such as Section 2. Further, under the Voting Rights Act, the federal government may seek injunctive relief to block voting laws from taking effect.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act currently prohibits any “standard, practice, or procedure” that “results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” The “results in” language here proves key, because when Congress first passed the law in 1965, Section 2 prohibited only a “standard, practice, or procedure” “to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
As originally drafted, then, the Voting Rights Act only prohibited intentional discrimination. However, following the Supreme Court’s decision in City of Mobile v. Bolden, wherein the high court held that Section 2 only bars “the purposefully discriminatory denial or abridgment by the government of the freedom to vote” on account of race or color, Congress amended the language of Section 2 to prohibit practices that “result” in the “denial or abridgment” of the right to vote.
To prevail on a Section 2 claim, then, the Department of Justice need not establish a state such as Georgia intended to deny or abridge the right
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