Lots of legal news today.
In Minnesota, Judge Peter Cahill sentenced former police officer Derek Chauvin to 22.5 years in prison for the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, in May 2020. Last April, a jury convicted Chauvin of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter. Floyd’s death sparked protests across the country last summer.
Elie Mystal, justice correspondent at The Nation, noted that Chavin was going to get at least ten years. Prosecutors asked for 30. The Judge split the difference and added in time for the aggravating factors. Legal analyst and law school professor Joyce Alene White Vance noted that keeping the sentencing in the same realm as other sentences for felony murder make it less likely to be overturned on appeal.
This morning, Georgia Superior Court Judge Brian Amero dismissed seven of the nine claims in a lawsuit alleging there were 147,000 fraudulent ballots cast in Fulton County in the 2020 election. He did not dismiss two of them, which were argued under a different claim. The Fulton County elections board says it intends to file to get those claims dismissed as well. There have already been three audits of the ballots, including a hand recount. Those audits found no evidence of widespread fraud.
Georgia is in the news for another legal case today, as well. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that the Department of Justice is suing the state of Georgia over its sweeping new election bill that restricts access to the vote. In a press conference, Garland said that the new law was not discriminatory against Black voters by accident; it was intended to be discriminatory.
“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 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” he said.
In a statement, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said: ““The Biden Administration continues to do the bidding of Stacey Abrams and spreads more lies about Georgia’s election law…. I look forward to meeting them, and beating them, in court.” Georgia governor Brian Kemp, whose victory over Stacey Abrams in the 2018 election has been widely associated with voter suppression, accused the Biden administration of “weaponizing the Department of Justice to serve their own partisan goals.” He said at a news conference: “the DOJ lawsuit announced today is legally and constitutionally dead wrong. Their false and baseless allegations are, quite honestly, disgusting."
The DOJ also set up a task force to deal with the rise in threats against election workers since the 2020 election. Threats and intimidation have led election officials in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Georgia, to quit or retire early. Pennsylvania, alone, has lost about a third of its county election officials.
States passing voter restriction laws have also put in place punishments for county officials who expand voter access. A law in Florida imposes a $25,000 fine for leaving a ballot drop box accessible outside of established hours; another in Iowa imposes a $10,000 fine for a “technical infraction,” such as opening a few minutes late. Opponents think these laws could be enforced on a partisan basis. “It’s a lot of moving parts and a lot of variables and people make mistakes, and now I’m liable for all those mistakes,” Iowa’s Linn County auditor Joel Miller told the Associated Press. “The process could be likewise corrupted by the secretary of state arbitrarily administering the law in a very uneven manner, depending on whether you’re a Democratic county or a Republican county.”
The memo announcing the new task force quoted Attorney Merrick Garland’s statement on June 11 when he announced steps the DOJ would take over the next 30 days to protect the right to vote: “There are many things that are open to debate in America. But the right of all eligible citizens to vote is not one of them. The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy, the right from which all other rights ultimately flow.”
It went on to say: “A threat to any election official, worker, or volunteer is, at bottom, a threat to democracy. We will promptly and vigorously prosecute offenders to protect the rights of American voters, to punish those who engage in this criminal behavior, and to send the unmistakable message that such conduct will not be tolerated.”
This is fitting, of course, because Congress established the Department of Justice in 1870, under President U.S. Grant’s administration, to keep members of the Ku Klux Klan from continuing to terrorize Black and white Republican voters in the South after the Civil War. Garland has often referred to that history and declared his intention to honor it.
Laws from that era are in the news in another way today, too. The bus driver and staffers who were on the Biden-Harris campaign bus that a caravan of about 100 trucks full of Trump supporters tried to drive off the highway last October are suing several people from the caravan under the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act. That law, passed at the height of KKK terrorism in the Reconstruction South, made election intimidation a crime. The group is also suing local law enforcement for refusing to come to their aid despite their frantic phone calls to 911.
The Biden-Harris campaign cancelled its events for the day out of safety concerns. Participants in the “train” announced their intentions on social media, filmed their actions, and then bragged about them after the fact, prompting Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Donald Trump Jr., and Trump himself to cheer them on.
Finally, news broke today that yesterday, prosecutors for the Manhattan district attorney told lawyers for the Trump Organization that they could bring criminal charges against the company as soon as next week over tax issues. The former president has dismissed the investigation as “a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history.”