The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that private litigants can no longer bring lawsuits claiming violation of section two of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The case stemmed from Arkansas after a lower court threw out a challenge to the state's newly drawn house map, similar to the challenge filed against Alabama's congressional map this year.
The 2-1 decision stated that private plaintiffs, such as the NAACP and the ACLU in Arkansas, could not bring a private lawsuit under section 2 of the VRA. The decision only applies to the jurisdiction of the Eighth Circuit but could have far-reaching impacts if the Supreme Court rules on the case.
In Alabama, a court-imposed special master recently redrew the state's congressional map after a series of private organizations sued the state, claiming racial gerrymandering and discrimination against black voters.
The new map came after the Supreme Court upheld a lower court's opinion in 2021 that Alabama's previous map violated the VRA. In the 5-4 opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, stated, "Our cases have assumed — without deciding — that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 furnishes an implied cause of action under section 2."
The Eighth Circuit's decision received the condemnation of U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Birmingham), who called on the Supreme Court and Congress to advance legislation to address the court's decision.
"This ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is deeply disturbing and wrong as a matter of law," Sewell said in a statement. "If allowed to stand, it would be the death knell of the Voting Rights Act, stripping individuals and civil rights groups of their ability to fight back against voter discrimination in court. The Supreme Court must reverse this disastrous ruling without delay."
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