ATLANTA — It’s Friday evening, two weeks before the Georgia Senate runoff. Uzoma Nkwonta is several thousand feet in the air aboard an American Airlines flight heading back to D.C. — still in the navy suit and Calvin Klein loafers he wore to court that day — when he opens his laptop to discover his client had won his lawsuit against the state of Georgia. Court cases typically move at a glacial pace, but this one lurched forward at a furious speed: Nkwonta filed the lawsuit on Monday at 10:08 p.m.; the Republican National Committee asked to join the case for Georgia sometime Tuesday; and at 10:55 a.m. on Wednesday, the judge ordered everyone to come to Atlanta for an in-person hearing less than 48 hours later.
That one judge, presiding over courtroom 7F of the Fulton County Courthouse earlier that Friday, had the power to alter the makeup of the Senate. Nkwonta’s client, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, was fighting to keep polls open the Saturday after Thanksgiving. And Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who famously rebuffed Donald Trump’s plea to “find 11,780 votes” in 2020, was fighting to keep them closed — in part because of a state holiday that once honored Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general.
Twenty-nine counties ended up offering early voting on the Saturday in question, Nov. 26, enabling 70,331 Georgians to cast their ballots in a state with a long history of suppressing the Black vote. The early votes, which according to official figures skewed for Warnock, would also help the pastor-turned-senator expand a Senate majority that, by all historical indicators, Democrats were poised to lose.
But on that Friday, crammed in a narrow Embraer 175 plane, the blue light of his laptop bouncing off the overhead compartment, Nkwonta doesn’t know any of this, that Warnock’s win would be the ultimate outcome of his lawsuit. Eager to get back home, and savoring his courtroom victory, Nkwonta turns to the flight attendant. He orders himself a drink.
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