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GOP In Georgia Wants Control Over DAs

There's an all-out attack on our court systems in the U.S, and Georgia isn't exempt from this battle. Amee Vanderpool covers the latest attempt by the GOP legislature to control the state's district attorneys.
Credit: David Walter Banks Getty Images
Published:March 16, 2023

By Amee Vanderpool

The latest attempt by the conservative legislative majority in Georgia seeks to remove any political opposition from the judicial arm of government by following an established GOP blueprint.
“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive and judicia[l] in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self–appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” - James Madison, Federalist No. 51, 1788

In the midst of an ongoing investigation by Atlanta District Attorney Fani Willis into whether Donald Trump and his allies tried to subvert the election process in Georgia in 2020, Republicans in the state have just passed a measure to evict prosecutors who they believe are “engaging in misconduct.” 

The Georgia House has approved House Bill 231, which seeks to create a new state board that can punish or entirely remove duly-elected state district attorneys who are not complying with the demands of the Republican legislature. Likewise, Republicans in the Georgia State Senate are backing Senate Bill 92, a similar law that would create a commission to discipline or remove prosecutors for similar infractions.

Ultimately, a politically-aimed commission of this nature will create a chilling effect on prosecutorial independence, which will silence the voices of the voters who elected these legal officials. Under this kind of law, prosecutors whose work is policed by the electorate and the Georgia State Bar could now be forced to pursue inappropriate and unethical criminal charges at the whim of the conservative legislative majority. 

Elected officials like Willis could also be threatened to drop certain investigations that Georgia Republicans do not support — a concept that would make the Georgia State Legislature and those who serve in the majority controlling this commission impervious to the law. This is the exact scenario that the Founding Fathers specifically sought to enjoin at the federal level with the Constitutional Doctrine of Separation of Powers

In one of the grandest statements of irony ever made, Georgia State Senator Randy Robertson, the Republican sponsoring the bill, said the goal in this is to aim this bill at “somebody who says they can choose, not based on evidence, but on how they feel about their political leanings, who they can prosecute.” The Georgia Republican Legislative Majority is doing just that, only in reverse. 

Last year, Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Andrew Warren, a Democratic Florida State Attorney, after Warren pledged that he would not prosecute anyone seeking abortions in the state. Andrew Warren accused DeSantis of “spit[ting] in the face of voters” by suspending him for vowing not to criminalize abortion and gender-affirming care. Warren also called DeSantis’ move an “illegal overreach” and power grab attempted to bolster a presidential run.

Warren filed a federal lawsuit last year against DeSantis for "neglect of duty" following the suspension, arguing that DeSantis exceeded his powers and violated Warren's First Amendment right to free speech. A federal judge ruled in January of this year that while Governor DeSantis did indeed violate the First Amendment in his suspension of Warren, he does not have the power to reinstate Warren, as this is a state issue.

Consequently, in February of this year, Warren initiated a lawsuit in the Florida Supreme Court asking for his job to be reinstated. Warren also confirmed that he's prepared to file an appeal in federal court for the same reason. While there has not been a ruling issued in this case at the state level, it is worth noting that a majority of the members of the Florida Supreme Court are DeSantis appointees. This is the strategy the Republican Party has used to successfully subvert the law nationally and is no doubt the blueprint currently being followed by Republicans in Georgia.

The Republican-controlled Pennsylvania House voted last November to impeach Larry Krasner, the liberal district attorney in Philadelphia, who has clashed with conservatives for years over his approach to crime. Krasner was only able to remain in office because the Pennsylvania State Senate did not have the two-thirds vote to remove him. 

A Republican-backed bill was just passed in the Indiana State Senate in February that will allow a special prosecuting attorney, appointed by the state attorney general, to step in if a local prosecutor is “categorically refusing to prosecute certain crimes.” This new law, which references a “noncompliant prosecuting attorney,” was authored by Indiana Republican Mike Young and will allow the Indiana State Attorney General to submit a petition to request a special prosecutor in such cases.

Under this law, if the Indiana Attorney General “receives credible information” that a county prosecutor is categorically refusing to enforce a criminal law enacted by the Indiana General Assembly — such as a shoplifting complaint or a disorderly conduct charge — there must be an investigation. The attorney general is then able to file a notice with the chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court to request the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Mike Young, the conservative state politician who wrote the bill, told his colleagues that the reason for this legislation was that “There are a lot of people who believe [this lack of prosecution] is George-Soros-backed or his organizations that are backing these prosecutors to get elected.” 

Young has described his law as a response to “social justice prosecution.” This is the very concept that mirrors the DeSantis quest in Florida to usurp power under the false guise of combating the “woke” element of society. It is all just a facade for opposing any kind of agenda the GOP deems to be too liberal.

Florida was hardly the beginning of attempts by the GOP to usurp power beyond their intended legislative purpose, and Georgia is nowhere close to the end. Republicans are test-driving their legal limitations now in this arena leading up to the 2024 election to see exactly how much power they can illegally commandeer. This is the same principle they used for decades to find the weak links in abortion laws in an attempt to overturn those laws systematically. 

One thing has recently changed that is now making these Republican power-grab propositions all too easy to manifest. The massive number of conservative judges that have been added to federal and state courts under Donald Trump is now making these Republican strategies a very real threat. For states like Florida, the end of the legal line is a Florida Supreme Court made up of DeSantis lackeys. For the entire nation, a Court with a majority created by Donald Trump has the final say.