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Injunction of Georgia voter purge dealt setback in federal court

Judge Steve C. Jones handed down the decision on Friday regarding the Fair Fight Action-led push to stop thousands of votes from being removed from state rolls.

ATLANTA — A U.S. District Court judge has denied an injunction filed by Stacey Abrams-led Fair Fight Action that would have prevented the removal of more than 120,000 inactive voters from state rolls.

Judge Steve Jones made the decision citing that the 11th Amendment of the Constitution and the "principals of sovereign immunity" didn't permit a federal court to enjoin a state to follow a federal court's interpretation of state laws.

He also denied the injunction claiming that the plaintiffs "failed to show a substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that the 'no contact' provision violates the First and Fourteenth."

RELATED: Georgia Senate panel votes against restoring voting rights for felons

However, he didn't leave Abrams and Fair Fight Action without a path forward suggesting instead that the decision be put back in the hands of state courts - or even the Georgia Supreme Court.

"While the denial of this motion is based upon the Eleventh Amendment and respect for state sovereignty, the Court has not ignored the fundamental significance of voting under our constitutional structure," Judge Jones wrote. "In recognition of this important right, the Court would be remiss not to express its serious concern that there needs to be an immediate and accurate interpretation by the state court of HB 316 as to its effect on the voters who were already on the State’s inactive list prior to the effective date of HB 316."

Critics of the purge suggest that HB 316, which was signed into law in 2019, allows for the status change of voters only after nine years of no contact. Raffensperger is apparently arguing the new law does not apply to people who passed the seven-year mark before the bill became law.

"H.B. 316 was signed into law with the express purpose of making Georgia’s elections more 'secure and fair' in large part by lengthening the period of inactivity required before a voter could be purged," the injunction motion states. "H.B. 316 - which expressly repealed all prior contrary laws - is current, governing, law and (Raffensperger) is obligated to comply with it when purging the voter rolls."

RELATED: Stacey Abrams' voting rights group Fair Fight Action files motion to block voter purge

In his decision, Judge Jones says the court will allow the plaintiffs, upon request, to stay the pending litigation to seek emergency relief at the state court level.

He also ordered Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to take extra care to make sure those who would be removed from rolls are properly warned - especially House District 171 which faces a Dec. 30 re-register deadline to vote in an upcoming election.

In response, Fair Fight Action said that its efforts did result in roughly 26,500 voters remaining on rolls who would have otherwise been purged.

"The state is now required to take additional steps to notify purged voters as a result of our litigation," it goes on to say.

The statement also keyed in on the judge's concerns over the interpretation of HB 316. 

"We share this concern, and we are exploring additional legal options to compel the Secretary of State to follow House Bill 316," the statement read.

In the meantime, the organization said it is "exploring additional legal options to compel the Secretary of State to follow House Bill 316."

However, Secretary Raffensperger's camp is also claiming victory in the judge's decision.

"Today Judge Jones' upheld Georgia's decision to continue to maintain clean voter rolls," spokesperson Walter Jones said. "Despite activists efforts and lawsuits that only waste taxpayer dollars, Georgia is continuing to ensure every eligible voter can vote and voter lists remain accurate."

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