Judge Victoria Calvert, nominated by President Biden as a district judge in the Northern District of Georgia, issued a preliminary injunction to halt Georgia’s enforcement of a restrictive election law against non-partisan groups that do not have the major purpose of electing a candidate. The law requires disclosure of all contributors who give $100 or more, seriously harming First Amendment rights, with civil penalties for any violation. The December 2022 decision was in New Georgia Project, Inc. v Carr.
What’s the Background of the Case?
The New Georgia Project (NGP) filed the lawsuit. NGP is a non-partisan organization that seeks to register, engage and activate Black and other historically marginalized people in the state. Although it does not endorse election candidates, it does do extensive, non-partisan issue advocacy in conjunction with state elections.
State officials filed an administrative complaint against NGP, claiming it had improperly failed to register and meet compelled disclosure mandates in connection with 2018 and 2019 Georgia state and municipal elections. They asserted that NGP functioned as an “independent” or “ballot” committee in those elections. Among other mandates, the law requires that such committees disclose the name and address of anyone who contributes $100 or more to it.
NGP contended that since its “major purpose” is not the nomination or election of candidates, state officials improperly tried to force it to comply with the law. It explained that these requirements would impede its work and infringe on the First Amendment rights of it and its supporters. When the state nevertheless persisted, NGP filed a federal court complaint seeking to make clear that the law does not properly apply to NGP and similar non-partisan groups.
What Did the Judge Decide and Why Is it Important?
In response to an NGP motion, Judge Calvert issued a preliminary injunction that stopped state officials from seeking to enforce the registration and reporting requirements concerning “independent” or “ballot’ committees against NGP and similar groups as the lawsuit continues. She recognized that according to precedent, “compelled disclosure” of member and donor information of groups like NGP has the “inevitable result” of harming “First Amendment rights” to privacy and freedom of association.
Judge Calvert acknowledged the importance of appropriate disclosure requirements concerning elections. But when it comes to non-partisan groups like NGP that do not have the “major purpose” of electing or nominating candidates, she explained that such mandates pose serious problems. As applied to such groups, she concluded, the law is “constitutionally overbroad” and would improperly cover “a substantial number of groups with limited resources,” in violation of the First Amendment.
Groups like NGP play a crucial role in working with and activating voters of color and others who have historically been marginalized. Subjecting them to onerous registration and disclosure requirements, as some southern states tried to do to the NAACP more than fifty years ago, can seriously harm their work and violate the First Amendment rights of their supporters. Judge Calvert’s preliminary injunction takes an important step towards recognizing and enforcing these principles. It serves as a good example of an important decision by a fair-minded federal judge nominated by President Biden and a reminder of the importance of confirming more such judges to our federal courts.