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Georgia Lawmakers Keep Doing Things They Know Will Get Us Sued

Each year, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, about 55,000 people pass the bar exam in the United States, which admits them to the practice of law. If one of these newly minted attorneys ever asked me for career advice, I’d tell them this: Come to Georgia and hang out your shingle. You’ll always have plenty of work, because our state and local governments have established what is essentially a full employment program for lawyers.

Georgia’s elected officeholders have a longstanding tradition of doing things that will get them sued. They often know they will lose these lawsuits, but they invite the litigation anyway.

The latest example comes from Cobb County, where the Kennesaw City Council voted recently to deny a permit for a Muslim mosque to operate in a shopping center storefront. There was no valid reason for the Kennesaw officials to deny permission. In fact, they had granted a similar request a few weeks earlier from a Pentecostal church group to worship in a storefront setting. The reason council members denied the Muslims a permit was because, quite simply, they were Muslims. Even a first-year law student would understand that this kind of religious discrimination has been outlawed for more than 200 years by the First Amendment to the Constitution. 

The Muslim group will sue the City of Kennesaw unless council members somehow come to their senses and the city will lose that lawsuit as soon as a federal judge has a few minutes to read it. This isn’t even a close call. If the matter goes to court, the Kennesaw City Council will lose and the city’s taxpayers will be on the hook to pay out thousands of dollars in court costs and attorney’s fees for a case they were guaranteed to lose the moment council members voted to deny the permit. The taxpayers will lose—but there will be a lot of work for lawyers.

The Georgia General Assembly passed bills in 2012 and 2014 that would require people who apply for welfare benefits or food stamps to take and pass drug tests. Before they voted on the food stamp drug test bill this year, legislators were warned by two of their members who practice law that the measure would not withstand the inevitable lawsuit that would result.

“It cannot be sustained by any court,” Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) told her House colleagues. “This is not a risk [of losing in court]—this is a certain ending of defeat.” Sen. Josh McKoon (R-Columbus) similarly told the Senate: “This is not going to hold up. It’s not narrowly tailored enough and I believe it’s going to be defeated in court.”

They might as well have been talking to brick walls. The House and Senate both passed the bill by large margins and Gov. Nathan Deal, an attorney who surely knew better, signed it into law.

Attorney General Sam Olens warned Deal that federal regulations prohibit states from requiring food stamp applicants to take a drug test. “The state must comply with the terms and conditions of the federal program, or risk potential loss of the federal funding for the program (over $3 billion annually),” Olens said in a letter to Deal.

You can guess what happened. A federal appeals court last week struck down a similar drug testing law that had been adopted in Florida, noting that it “crosses the constitutional line” protecting citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. With that ruling in place, you’ll never see either of Georgia’s drug testing laws implemented.

That takes me back to my original advice to new attorneys: Come to Georgia if you want to make a living. We may have the highest unemployment rate in the nation, but our politicians will make sure there is always plenty of work for you.