Hall State House hopeful disqualified over citizenship requirement
By Megan Reed | Gainesville Times | August 15, 2018

Photo: Maria Palacios

The Georgia Supreme Court has declined to hear the case of Maria Palacios of Gainesville, who wanted to run for the Georgia House of Representatives but was denied a place on the ballot due to citizenship requirements.

Palacios became a United States citizen in 2017 and has been a legal permanent resident of Georgia since 2009. She was born in Mexico but moved to the United States when she was two months old, and her family moved to Gainesville in 1994.
 
“To me, I’m from no other country besides the United States. This is all I know,” Palacios said.
 
Palacios wanted to represent District 29 as a Democrat in the state House. In Georgia, people elected to the House of Representatives must be Georgia citizens for at least two years at the time of their election. Palacios’ fight to get on the ballot in November has hinged upon the interpretation of the term “Georgia citizen.”
 
She was disqualified from the race in May after Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office ruled she could not be a candidate for state House because she had not been a Georgia citizen long enough. On July 18, a Fulton County Superior Court judge upheld that decision. Palacios, backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, appealed the decision to the Georgia Supreme Court on July 20.
 
The Georgia Supreme Court decided Tuesday, Aug. 14 to deny to hear Palacios’ case.
 
“We’re disappointed that the Georgia Supreme Court has failed to defend the state constitution,” Palacios’ lawyer, Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement. “However, the fight is far from over. We will continue fighting for the sacred, fundamental right to vote for every Georgian including the right of newly naturalized U.S. citizens to run for public office.”
 
The statute specifying requirements for running for state office requires that candidates be citizens of both the United States and of Georgia. Young argued that the separate clause requiring candidates to be U.S. citizens would not be necessary if U.S. citizenship was required for Georgia citizenship.
 
In an Atlanta courtroom July 18, Judge Craig Schwall of the Fulton County Superior Court disagreed. He said that in order to be a citizen, and not just a resident, of Georgia, someone would also have to be a U.S. citizen.
 
The Georgia Supreme Court was Palacios’ last hope to be on the ballot in November, according to Young. She was the only Democrat seeking the District 29 seat, currently filled by Republican Matt Dubnik, who is up for re-election. Independent Nancy Stead has also qualified for the race.
 
While she said she is disappointed in the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision, Palacios said she plans to stay involved in the community and find other ways to have a positive impact.
 
She is the PTA president at Mundy Mill Learning Academy and a mother of three young children. She also has her own financial coaching business, Palacios Contigo, and works as the advocacy and policy director for Georgia Shift, a nonprofit that educates young people on civic issues and helps them get involved in advocacy and leadership development.
 
Palacios said she will work to support other local candidates, including Democrat Josh McCall, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives District 9.
 
“I believe there’s always multiple ways to accomplish something,” Palacios said.