Maria Palacios, whose candidacy for Georgia House was ruled ineligible, holds a news conference at Fulton County Superior Court. Maya T. Prabhu/maya.prabhu@ajc.com

Judge upholds candidate’s disqualification from Georgia election

A Fulton County Superior Court judge on Wednesday upheld a decision by Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp to keep a candidate who became a U.S. citizen last year off of the November ballot.

Maria Palacios, a policy analyst for the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, filed a lawsuit in May to overturn Kemp’s decision that she wasn’t eligible to run for a Gainesville-area state House seat. She has lived in Georgia as a permanent resident since 2009.

Attorneys for Palacios, a Democrat, said they plan to appeal the decision to Georgia’s Supreme Court and request a ruling before Labor Day.

Kemp, a Republican, is running for governor this year.

The Georgia Constitution requires state House candidates to be “citizens of this state for two years,” which Kemp cited when disqualifying Palacios from the November election.

Sean Young, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union representing Palacios, argued that Palacios has been a citizen of Georgia since 2009. In addition to being a “citizen of the state” for two years, Georgia’s Constitution requires a candidate be a U.S. citizen at the time of the election.

“If we adopt (Kemp’s) reading of the qualifications clause, we would essentially be deleting a separate U.S. citizenship requirement in the qualifications clause,” he said.

But Judge Craig L. Schwall disagreed with Young’s interpretation.

“I’ve read the file and I read the law and I just don’t see any way that your claim can stand,” Schwall told Young.

Schwall said it was important to read the state constitution through the context of history.

“This constitution was ratified following the Civil War at a time where allegiance to the Union was of paramount importance, so that historical background cannot be ignored,” he said. “So it appears to me (that) to be a citizen of Georgia, you have to be a United States citizen.”

Palacios was brought by her parents to the United States from Mexico as an infant and became a U.S. citizen in June 2017.

Palacios was the only Democratic candidate in May’s primary election for House District 29. If her disqualification is upheld, the incumbent, Republican state Rep. Matt Dubnik, would only face Independent Party candidate Nancy Stead in the Nov. 6 general election.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the executive director of the Georgia Council on American-Islamic Relations, said a decision against Palacios could have a cooling effect on immigrants who want to run for public office.

“It’s about every immigrant that comes to this country, becomes a citizen and wants to run for office,” he said. “If you are an American citizen, you should be able to run for office where you live.”

Palacios called Kemp’s decision unfair.

“With or without being an elected official, I plan to continue to serve my community,” she said after Schwall issued his ruling.

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