Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church v. Kemp

State: Georgia

Filed: 2021

Court: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Plaintiffs: Sixth District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Georgia Muslim Voter Project, Women Watch Afrika, Latino Community Fund Georgia, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, The Arc Georgia, Georgia Advocacy Office, and Georgia ADAPT.

Defendants: Governor Brian Kemp and other state and local election officials

Counsel: Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Wilmer Hale, Davis Wright Tremaine, The Arc of the United States

Overview: After Georgia voters turned out in record numbers for the 2020 presidential election and U.S. Senate elections in early 2021, state legislators passed a sweeping – and unconstitutional – voting law that threatened to massively disenfranchise voters, particularly voters of color and voters with disabilities. This lawsuit challenges multiple provisions of the law, also known as SB 202, including the following items.

  • A ban on “line warming,” where volunteers provide water and snacks to people waiting in long lines to vote, a common occurrence at precincts with a large population of voters of color.
  • A severe restriction on the use of mobile voting units, which have been used to address a shortage of accessible and secure polling locations that previously resulted in long lines of voters at existing and traditional polling locations.
  • Additional and onerous identification requirements for requesting and casting an absentee ballot.
  • A compressed period for requesting absentee ballots.
  • Restrictions on the use of secure ballot drop boxes.
  • Disqualification of provisional ballots cast in a voter’s county of residence but outside the voter’s precinct before 5 p.m. Previously, votes for all the races to which the person was eligible to vote on that precinct’s provisional ballot were counted.
  • A drastic reduction of early voting in runoff elections.

Voters with disabilities have received scant attention in Georgia’s battles over voting rights but have borne the brunt of historical and continuing discrimination and neglect in all spheres of public life. Rather than celebrating the strong turnout in the 2020 general election and runoffs, S.B. 202 doubles down on making voting even more inaccessible for the disability community.

The law was debated and passed by both houses of the Georgia Legislature and signed by Governor Brian Kemp, all in under seven hours. The legislation was passed despite state officials praising the recent elections for their integrity, safety, and security. The lawsuit describes how the law violates voter protections under the 14th and 15th Amendments as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The plaintiffs represented in the case include organizations whose get-out-the-vote activities will be negatively impacted by SB 202 and people most directly affected, such as Black voters, new citizens, religious communities, and people with limited English proficiency.

Case Documents

First Amended Complaint

Plaintiffs Opposition to State Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss

Order Denying Motion to Dismiss

Motion for Preliminary Injunction on ADA Claims

Declarations in Support of Motion for Preliminary Injunction on ADA Claims

Expert Report of Dr. Lisa A. Schur

Plaintiffs Reply Brief on Motion for a Preliminary Injunction on ADA Claims

Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment on Additional Provisions

Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment on Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment on Absentee Ballot Claims

Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment on Drop Box Provisions

Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment on Changes in Timing

Statement of Interest of the United States

Case Resources

Southern Poverty Law Center Case Page

Southern Poverty Law Center: Nonprofit that helps people with disabilities cast ballots joins SPLC suit against voter suppression law

Webinar: “Battle for Representation: A Fight to Protect and Expand Access to the Ballot” | Webinar Transcript 

Press Releases

Georgia-based Disability Rights Groups Join Fight Against Georgia’s Anti-Voter Law S.B. 202

Federal Court Allows Lawsuit Challenging Georgia’s Voter Suppression Law to Proceed

Voting and Civil Rights Groups Challenge Inequity in Access to Voting Under Georgia Law

Related Media

Huffington Post: Disability Rights Groups Join Lawsuit Over Georgia Voter Suppression Law

Blackstar News: Disability Rights Groups Join Fight Against Georgia’s Anti-Voter Law S.B. 202

New York Times: G.O.P. Bills Rattle Disabled Voters: ‘We Don’t Have a Voice Anymore’

2021 Talks: Disability advocates fight Georgia’s new voting law

Newsweek: Trump-Appointed Judge Says 8 Lawsuits Challenging Georgia’s New Election Law Can Proceed

The Hill: Judge clears way for legal challenge to Georgia’s restrictive voting law 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Judge denies attempts to dismiss lawsuits over Georgia voting law

Pew: Voters with Disabilities Face New Ballot Restrictions Ahead of Midterms

The Arc Georgia’s Grassroots Connectors (Video)

USA Today: New election laws could create barriers for voters with disabilities

CNN: How new voting restrictions threaten ballot access for disabled voters

Southern Poverty Law Center: Voting Rights Organizations Move to Block Provisions in Georgia’s Anti-Voter Law in 2022 Election Cycle 

Time: Millions of Georgians Have Voted. It Hasn’t Been Easy for Everyone

ACLU: Here’s How Georgia’s New Voting Law Harms Voters With Disabilities

Young v. Georgia

State: Georgia

Filed: October 5, 2020

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Overview: This amicus brief challenges Georgia’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in determining intellectual disability in death penalty cases as creating a constitutionally unacceptable risk that defendants who have legitimate claims of intellectual disability will nonetheless be sentenced to death.

Excerpt: “Georgia was the first state in the Nation to establish a prohibition against executing individuals with ID thirteen years before the U.S. Supreme Court established a constitutional exemption in Atkins, and its leadership on the issue is to be commended…Despite Georgia’s early leadership on the issue, since Atkins not a single defendant in Georgia has been held to be exempt from execution due to ID pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 17-7-131.6 As set forth below, this onerous burden of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is inconsistent with the clinical diagnostic process and encourages jurors to default to stereotypes about people with ID.”

Case Documents

Amicus Brief

Georgia Supreme Court Decision

Related Media

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: High court to be asked to overturn intellectual disability threshold

Palmer v. Georgia

State: Georgia

Filed: July 6, 2020

Court: Supreme Court of Georgia

Overview: This amicus brief challenges Georgia’s “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard in determining intellectual disability in death penalty cases as creating a constitutionally unacceptable risk that defendants who have legitimate claims of intellectual disability will nonetheless be sentenced to death.

Excerpt: “Georgia was the first state in the Nation to establish a prohibition against executing individuals with ID thirteen years before the U.S. Supreme Court established a constitutional exemption in Atkins, and its leadership on the issue is to be commended…Despite Georgia’s early leadership on the issue, since Atkins not a single defendant in Georgia has been held to be exempt from execution due to ID pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 17-7-131.6 As set forth below, this onerous burden of “beyond a reasonable doubt” is inconsistent with the clinical diagnostic process and encourages jurors to default to stereotypes about people with ID.”

Case Documents

Amicus Brief

Related Media

Press Release: The Arc Calls for Georgia Supreme Court to Reexamine Unconstitutional Standard for Proving Intellectual Disability in Death Penalty Cases

Georgia Advocacy Office v. Georgia

State: Georgia

Filed: 2017

Court: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia

Plaintiffs: Georgia Advocacy Office, The Arc, Parents of Children with Disabilities

Defendants: State of Georgia, Georgia Board of Education, Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Georgia Department of Community Health

Counsel: Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Center for Public Representation, DLA Piper LLP, Georgia Advocacy Office, Goodmark Law Firm, The Arc

Overview: In 2017, parents of children with disabilities, The Arc, and the Georgia Advocacy Office filed a class action lawsuit in federal court alleging that the state of Georgia discriminated against thousands of public school students with disabilities by providing them with a separate and unequal education via the state’s Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Supports Program (GNETS). The complaint alleges that the state, in denying GNETS students the opportunity to be educated with their non-disabled peers in neighborhood schools, violates the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Georgia is unique in having established a state-wide educational program—GNETS—that systematically segregates students with behavioral disabilities across the state. Over 5,000 students with disabilities, the disproportionate majority of whom are students of color, have been sent to the GNETS centers. Most of the GNETS centers are housed in completely separate schools (including some that were formerly schools for African-American students in the Jim Crow days). Other GNETS centers are inside regular schools but typically are housed in locked wings or have separate entrances, effectively operating as a separate school within the school. GNETS students are not only segregated from their non-disabled peers but also receive an inferior education. Typically, GNETS students are not taught by certified teachers; many are primarily taught through computers. Students cannot access the basic classes they need to earn a diploma, resulting in a graduate rate of GNETS students of only 10% (compared to a statewide rate of 80%). Many GNETS centers do not provide access to basic school services like gyms, libraries, or science labs. In addition, GNETS students are deprived of important co-curricular opportunities that other students enjoy, such as playing sports or participating in the school play. Parents and students have described GNETS as similar to a prison, with no way out.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice investigated GNETS and found that it violates Title II of the ADA by (1) unnecessarily segregating students with disabilities from their peers and (2) providing opportunities to GNETS students that are unequal to those provided to other students throughout the state. The investigation eventually culminated in a 2016 lawsuit against the state alleging that the state’s administration of the GNETS system violates the ADA by “unnecessarily segregating students with disabilities from their peers” and providing “unequal” education opportunity to GNETS students. On August 11, 2017, the DOJ’s lawsuit was put on hold pending a decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding DOJ’s authority to bring suit. Throughout, the State has continued to defend the GNETS program.

Case Documents

Complaint

Plaintiffs’ Opposition to Motion to Dismiss

Order Denying Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss

Order Denying Defendants’ Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings & Plaintiffs’ Motion to Consolidate

Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification

Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment

Expert Report of Dr. Judy Elliott in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification

Expert Report of Dr. Sally Rogers in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification

Expert Report of Dr. Kimm Campbell in Support of Plaintiffs’ Motion for Class Certification

Case Resources

Case Overview

DOJ Letter of Findings

DOJ Complaint

U.S. v. Georgia Order Denying Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss

Press Releases

Parents and Advocates Sue State of Georgia Over Separate and Unequal Education for Thousands of Students With Disabilities

Related Media

The New Yorker: Georgia’s Separate & Unequal Special Education System

Mother Jones: Will Trump’s Justice Department Pay Attention to Disability Rights?

Associated Press: Parents of Disabled Students Suing Georgia in Federal Court

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia Psychoeducational Schools An Unconstitutional ‘Dumping Ground,’ New Suit Claims

The Telegraph: Parents Of Students With Disabilities Sue State Of Georgia, Allege Discrimination

NOS Magazine: Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against ‘Drop Out Factories For Abandoned Kids’

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia ‘Psychoeducational’ Students Segregated By Disability, Race

Atlanta Journal Constitution: In Psychoeducational School, Behavioral Experiment For Troubled Child

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Physical Restraint Common At Psychoeducational Schools

The Atlantic: The Separate, Unequal Education of Students With Special Needs

Atlanta Journal Constitution: Georgia Illegally Segregates Disabled Students, Federal Inquiry Finds