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Big Company General Counsel Join Big Law Voting Rights Statement

April 12, 2021, 9:28 PM

Nearly 20 current and former general counsel of major corporations have joined Big Law leaders in signing a statement opposing voter disenfranchisement, following changes to Georgia’s voting laws.

“Equal access to voting is a fundamental right in the United States,” the statement, which doesn’t explicitly mention Georgia, says. “We, the undersigned law firm managing partners and corporate general counsel, denounce all efforts to restrict the constitutional right of every eligible American to vote and to participate in our democracy.”

The top lawyers that have signed the letter represent companies like American International Group Inc., Starbucks Corp., ViacomCBS Inc., and Bristol Myers Squibb Co. None of the in-house leaders who had signed the statement as of Monday afternoon work for Georgia-headquartered companies.

More than 60 leaders of AmLaw 100 firms have also signed on in support of “making voting easier, not harder, for all eligible voters,” said the statement, which was circulated among legal industry leaders by Paul Weiss Chairman Brad Karp and AIG General Counsel Lucy Fato.

Georgia’s new voting laws include stricter voter identification requirements, and give the state legislature control over its election board, a responsibility previously held by Georgia’s secretary of state. The law has been called “intentional discrimination” against minority votersin a lawsuit against Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and members of the state election board filed by the NAACP.

Two of Georgia’s largest public companies, Coca-Cola Inc. and Delta Airlines, have publicly condemned the law, though their general counsel had not signed the letter as of Monday. Coca-Cola and Delta Airlines did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Though the statement criticizes voter disenfranchisement in the U.S. generally, it doesn’t refer specifically to a controversial new law in Georgia that has sparked debate across the country.

Tsedale Melaku, author of “You Don’t Look Like A Lawyer” and postdoctoral research fellow at the City University of New York, said in an interview last week that general statements are often not enough when confronting issues of social justice.

“We cannot be afraid to say what needs to be said. There will be folks that say, ‘Well you get more bees with honey,’” Melaku said. “When we comply with or shift the dialogue to folks that are already having a hard time clearly stating that White supremacy is at play here, it just diminishes the work that’s being done.”

In an email to Bloomberg Law, Karp said organizing the legal industry to speak out is “just the first step” and that support for voting rights is “a nonpartisan issue.”

“As we did in connection with addressing our nation’s gun violence epidemic and the Trump Administration’s family separation immigration policies, we are forming a coalition of leading law firms and public interest organizations, including the Brennan Center for Justice, to challenge state voter suppression legislation and to support national legislation to protect voting rights and increase voter participation,” said Karp, who was also a signatory to a letter on voting rights from Big Law alumni.

General counsel have signed the voter disenfranchisement statement so far from American International Group, Inc., The New York Public Library, FactSet Research Systems Inc., Chobani LLC, Tokio Marine North America Inc., IHS Markit Ltd., Lincoln Financial Group, ViacomCBS Inc., Centerbridge Partners, L.P., Chanel Inc., Bristol Myers Squibb Co., Equitable Holdings, Inc., TIAA, Prudential Financial, Inc., Sony Music Entertainment, Discover Financial Services, Starbucks Corp., Accenture Plc, and DTE Energy.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ruiqi Chen in Washington, D.C. at rchen@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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