LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals today upheld a 2022 lower court ruling in an Arkansas redistricting case that radically concluded that voters may not sue to protect their voting rights under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The lower court ruling had ignored decades of precedent permitting private individuals to vindicate their rights under Section 2.
The plaintiffs — Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel — appealed that ruling, and are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Arkansas, Law Office of Bryan L. Sells LLC, and Dechert LLP. The groups challenged a redistricting plan for the Arkansas State House of Representatives that undermines the voting strength of Black Arkansans.
The following is reaction to today’s federal appeals court ruling:
Sophia Lin Lakin, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, who argued the appeal on behalf of the challengers: “This ruling is a travesty for democracy. For generations, private individuals have brought cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to protect their right to vote. No court had denied them the ability to bring their claims in federal court — with the sole exception of the district court, and now the Eighth Circuit. By failing to reverse the district court’s radical decision, the Eighth Circuit has put the Voting Rights Act in jeopardy, tossing aside critical protections that voters fought and died for.”
Holly Dickson, executive director of ACLU of Arkansas: “The court’s decision is deeply troubling, as it undermines the Voting Rights Act’s promise of equal participation in the democratic process for all Americans. Voters’ right to sue under Section 2 is critical to combating voting discrimination, and the court’s decision threatens to make it much harder to ensure fair and equitable representation for all Arkansans. We will keep working to ensure that the voices of communities of color are heard equally in our democracy, for without this, it is no democracy at all.”
Kymara Seals, policy director at the Arkansas Public Policy Panel: “We are deeply disappointed by the federal appeals court’s decision, which represents a monumental setback for voting rights. Stripping away the public’s ability to challenge unjust redistricting under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act undermines the very foundation of our democracy. We must remember that the fight is not over; we’ll continue to explore every avenue to ensure that the voting strength of Black Arkansans is not diluted.”
Barry Jefferson, political action chair of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP: “This decision is a devastating blow to the civil rights of every American, and the integrity of our nation’s electoral system. By stripping individuals of the ability to sue under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the court has gutted one of the most critical protections against voting discrimination. The Arkansas State Conference NAACP condemns this ruling in the strongest terms and will explore all available options to ensure that the rights of all voters are fully protected.”
The groups are exploring options to ensure fair maps that give Black Arkansans the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice will be used in the 2024 elections and beyond.