Brian Kemp is simultaneously Georgia’s top elections officer and its Republican candidate for governor — and he’s repeatedly used the first position to increase the likelihood that he will be successful in the second.
As a lawsuit filed Tuesday lays out, Kemp spuriously accused Democrats of trying to hack the state’s voter registration system. He aggressively purged registered voters. And he “held up 53,000 voter registrations — a whopping 70 percent of them from black applicants.” Some of these actions were blocked by federal courts.
The lawsuit, entitled Brown v. Kemp, seeks “a narrow temporary restraining order (TRO) transferring [Kemp’s] duties to another official to be selected by the governor.” It roots this argument in the longstanding principle that “no man can be a judge in his own case.”
It’s an aggressive legal theory, if not an entirely implausible one. As this principle’s reference to judges suggests, it applies most robustly to the judicial branch. In other contexts, such as partisan gerrymandering, the Supreme Court has typically looked the other way when elected officials enact laws that lock them into power.
Nevertheless, as the Brown plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order argues, “while the question of impermissible bias arises most often in the context of judicial proceedings, the prohibition extends to other government officials engaged in both adjudicatory or rule-making procedures.”
So Brown is the sort of case that, in the alternative universe where Justice Merrick Garland held the key vote on the Supreme Court, could potentially prevail. Whether it stands a chance in a judiciary dominated by Republicans is another question.