Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church v. Kemp

Location: Georgia
Status: Ongoing
Last Update: August 23, 2023

What's at Stake

Civil rights groups filed a federal lawsuit on March 29, 2021, against Georgia’s sweeping law that makes it much harder for all Georgians to vote, particularly voters of color and voters with disabilities. This law spans all aspects of Georgia’s voting process, including imposing a criminal ban on providing food and water to voters waiting in line, limiting dropbox access and ballot return assistance, rejecting absentee ballots for forgetting to add a birthdate to an envelope or for failing to provide more restrictive identifying information or photo ID copies along with absentee ballots. Premised on low voter confidence and born out of the Big Lie about the 2020 election, this law targets methods of voting disproportionately used more and more by Black voters and others voters of color just as they began to exercise greater political power.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Georgia, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), and law firm WilmerHale brought the case on behalf of the Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Georgia ADAPT, and Georgia Advocacy Office, in partnership with Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine and their clients Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Women Watch Afrika, Latino Community Fund Georgia, and the Arc of the United States.

The lawsuit challenges S.B. 202’s criminal ban on providing voter and water to voters in line (“line relief) under the First Amendment, that same provision as well as drop-box restrictions, restrictions on out-of-precinct voting, restrictive identification requirements for absentee voting, ballot return assistance, and other measures as violative of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendment, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also challenges the provision requiring election officials to reject absentee ballots with missing birthdates under the Materiality Provision of the Civil Rights Act.

On December 9, 2021, the court denied in full the Defendants’ motion to dismiss the case, allowing the case to proceed. In May 2022, we sought a preliminary injunction on Georgia’s criminal line relief ban in advance of the 2022 general election as a violation of our clients right to expressive conduct and political speech under the First Amendment. After briefing a full day hearing in July 2022 involving witness testimony and argument, the court denied the motion in August 2022. It agreed that our clients’ line relief activities are expressive conduct under the First Amendment and that the criminal line relief ban is a restriction of First Amendment activity based on content. It also agreed that for line relief provided to voters standing outside the 150-feet “buffer zone” around the polling place, the ban likely violated the First Amendment but found that the ban was justified within 150-feet. Despite finding the plaintiffs’ likely to succeed outside of the 150-foot zone, the Court denied the motion due to the proximity to the election.

In April 2023, we renewed our motion to halt the criminal line relief ban outside of the 150-foot buffer zone for the 2024 elections, and after full briefing and a full record of fact and expert discovery in the case, the Court agreed and issued a preliminary injunction against the line relief ban outside the buffer zone. Although the Defendants have appealed, the ruling against the ban remains in effect as the appeal plays out.

In May 2023, we also sought a preliminary injunction under the ADA for the 2024 elections against SB 202’s restrictions on providing ballot return assistance and restriction on dropbox numbers and access as unfairly burdensome for voters with disabilities. We also joined other groups in seeking relief for the 2024 elections against the missing-birthdate ballot rejection rule under the Civil Rights Act, and in challenging a number of other provisions of the law as intentional racial discrimination under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The court agreed with us that the ballot-rejection rule for missing birthdates was not material to determining voter qualifications and thus violates the Civil Rights Act, preliminarily enjoining that law. Defendants have appealed that ruling as well, but like the line relief ruling, the Court’s order remains in place unless and until the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals decides otherwise.

While the line relief and voter birthdate issues are on appeal, the fight continues toward a likely trial after the 2024 elections.

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