Georgia is just one of many states in which Republican leaders have tried to throw out district attorneys elected in big cities where Democrats dominate. Florida, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Indiana and other states with Republican governors or Republican-majority legislatures are disenfranchising urban voters by stripping them of their power to elect their own prosecutors and set their own criminal justice agendas. It is not particularly surprising that much of the voting power they’re stealing – and many of the elected district attorneys they are targeting – are Black.

The move to oust Fani Willis, the Fulton County, Ga., district attorney who indicted Donald Trump, is the latest in a series of attempts by Republican statehouses across the U.S. to throw out progressive, reform-minded elected prosecutors and silence the voters who support them. Alyssa Pointer/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS

But the Georgia effort is particularly enlightening because it is targeting Fani Willis, the Fulton County district attorney who is prosecuting the ex-president and current candidate Donald Trump and 18 others for their alleged roles in attempting to overturn Trump’s 2020 reelection defeat. Republican state Sen. Clint Dixon branded Willis’ indictments a “witch hunt” and said he would file a complaint against her with a new commission with authority to remove her when it convenes for the first time next month.

To his credit, Brian Kemp, the state’s Republican governor, has declined to support the move against Willis. But the law he signed earlier this year allows the new Prosecuting Attorneys Qualifications Commission – some of whose members Kemp appointed – to question Willis’ prosecutorial decisions and impose “involuntary retirement.” Dixon and others dispense with the usual public safety pretext for ousting so-called rogue DAs and come very close to admitting that their motive in targeting Willis is political.

Which of course it is, as is virtually every democracy-crushing move by Republican statehouses to throw out elected prosecutors and silence voters who support them.

Republicans for a time were leaders in the criminal justice reform movement, drawing on Christian values of redemption and fair play and conservative principles of limited government and economic discipline. Trump never signed on with the conservative Right on Crime effort, whose proponents included Newt Gingrich and other prominent Republicans. As president, though, Trump briefly aligned himself with reforms like more humane sentences when he signed the bipartisan First Step Act, a 2018 law improving federal sentencing practices.

But there was never a second step, because after the murder of George Floyd and the sometimes-violent protests that followed, Trump reverted to the tough-on-crime rhetoric that characterized much of his career as a public figure. His political acolytes and underlings fell into line – and shrewdly portrayed themselves as protectors of public safety in the face of progressive prosecutors and “woke” policies that are meant to correct longstanding flaws in the criminal justice system, such as unnecessarily extreme sentences, racial bias in plea bargaining and bail, and lax prosecution of serious police misconduct.

Local voters who want these reform policies elect DAs who promote them. Those who don’t, don’t. Moves like the new law in Georgia and DeSantis’ removals in Florida eliminate those choices.

The dangers posed by this anti-democratic movement are manifold. Most obviously, it virtually erases the voting power of a wide swath of voters, chiefly those who are Democrats, urban dwellers or Black. It robs them just as surely as intimidation at polling places once did, and as partisan gerrymandering still does. It quite literally overturns elections. It insidiously succeeds where Trump and his followers fell short following their 2020 defeat.

Trump was indicted in part because of his Jan. 2, 2021, phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, demanding that the Georgia official “find” him enough votes to secure a different outcome. Georgia remains the battleground – one of them, anyway – in this Republican attack on democracy. The attempt to unseat Fani Willis is merely an alternative way to achieve what rioters in the Capitol were seeking on Jan. 6, 2021.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.