Phoenix—The Georgia Supreme Court today made clear that state officials can be sued individually to stop them from enforcing laws that violate the state constitution—but lawsuits against the state itself are not allowed. The decision affirms a lower court’s dismissal of a case, but paves the way forward for future lawsuits challenging unconstitutional laws.
The State of Georgia argued that no one should be allowed to ask a court to protect individual rights unless a lawsuit is authorized by the Georgia Legislature—the Court rejected that argument in favor of a more measured approach grounded in the unique text and history of the Georgia Constitution. “The State’s argument was that you can’t challenge the constitutionality of a law unless the same people who passed the law give you permission,” said Jim Manley, senior attorney at the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation. “That would have given the Legislature a dangerous level of power. Instead, the Georgia Supreme Court applied the unique provisions of the Georgia Constitution to give citizens a way to challenge unconstitutional laws, although in this case the plaintiffs will have to re-file their case and sue officials individually in order for their claims to be heard. Today’s decision means the case is still dismissed, but the Court made clear that the legal dispute is far from over.”
When the superior court dismissed this case on the State’s argument, the Goldwater Institute joined with groups across the ideological spectrum—including the Southern Center for Human Rights, Anti-Defamation League, and GeorgiaCarry.org—urging the Georgia Supreme Court to reject that argument and reverse the decision of the lower court.
“We are glad that the Georgia Supreme Court recognized the danger of unchecked legislative power in its ruling today,” said Manley. “This decision means that Georgia courts will continue to have the power to protect individual rights.”