It’s been less than a week since Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis publicly began an investigation into Donald Trump‘s phone call to Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, and Georgia Republicans are already trying in earnest to change the rules that apply to prosecutions of election crimes.
Georgia state Republicans introduced a resolution Thursday that seeks to change the Georgia State Constitution to mandate the use of state-wide grand juries in prosecutions involving election crimes. The move would force prosecutors to draw more grand jurors from predominantly Republican rural areas of the state.
Per the bill’s text:
(d) The Attorney General or his or her designee shall act as legal adviser to any state-wide grand jury. The Attorney General, in his or her discretion, may designate any member of his or her staff or any district attorney to provide legal advice, counsel, or assistance to a state-wide grand jury.
(e) The subject matter jurisdiction of state-wide grand juries shall extend to the investigation and indictment of persons or legal entities for any crime involving voting, elections, or a violation of the election laws of this state and all related crimes.
The change, if adopted, could create a significant hurdle for any case brought by Willis, who would normally bring the results of a criminal investigation before a Fulton County grand jury. As Georgia State University College of Law Professor Anthony Michael Kreis commented on Twitter, using state-wide grand juries instead of county-wide ones would likely dilute the representation of Black residents on the panel.
This is an attack on Black political power. If folks engage in election misconduct in Fulton County, then they should face jurors who look like members of the community in Fulton County subject to the discretion of decisions by elected officials empowered by Fulton voters. #gapol https://t.co/Yg1h1Vxljn
— Anthony Michael Kreis (@AnthonyMKreis) February 16, 2021
Fulton County is the largest county in Georgia, with a population of 1,036,200; it also has the largest number of Black residents (approximately 440,568, which accounts of 43.6 percent of the county’s total population). By contrast, Georgia as a whole has a Black population of 32.6%.
Georgia’s Grand Jury Handbook appears to place more significance on representatively-proportional demographics than do members of its legislature. The Handbook explains to prospective grand jurors as follows:
All jurors are selected from a list of the qualified residents of the county. This list is developed by the Board of Jury Commissioners so that it reflects a fair cross-section of the citizens of the county. The primary sources for this list are drivers’ license records and voter registrations, but the Commissioners may use any other source to insure that the jury list fairly represents the population of the county.
In an email to Law&Crime, Professor Kreis called the proposal “a warning shot across the bow.”
“This measure is unlikely to secure the supermajority requirement for state constitutional amendments and would still require voter ratification even if it garnered the requisite number of votes in the General Assembly,” he said.
As a result, Kreis expects Willis to be undeterred by the move.
“Ultimately, I don’t think this particular proposal will weigh into her calculus over when and how to proceed,” Kreis predicted.
Twenty-five Georgia Senate Republicans co-sponsored the proposal for the Amendment. Georgia’s 56-member Senate currently has a Republican majority of 34 to 22. Amending the state’s constitution would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate, which would necessitate the vote of at least four Democrats before heading for ratification from voters.
Neither Fani Willis’s office nor the offices of the proposed amendment’s top sponsors immediately responded to request for comment.
[image via Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images]
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