Novembver 22, 2023
On Monday, November 19, a federal court issued a decision that could severely curtail enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which could affect voters of color nationwide and will probably be appealed to the Supreme Court, reports The Washington Post.
In its 2-1 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling that private citizens and groups like the NAACP cannot bring lawsuits under a provision that forbids discrimination in state and local elections laws.
The appellate court found that the key section of the act can only be enforced by the U.S. attorney general. That upheld a decision by U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky, who in 2022 dismissed a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ new district map because he said that the Justice Department had to join the plaintiffs.
At the time, voting rights groups argued in their lawsuit that a new map of congressional districts weakened Black voters’ electoral power in the state. Rudofsky, an appointee of President Donald Trump, gave Attorney General Merrick Garland five days to join the groups in the case. When he refused, the case was dismissed.
The 8th Circuit’s decision to uphold Rudofsky’s ruling will probably be appealed to the Supreme Court, and the justices may be inclined to consider it, along with a conflicting ruling on the same issue by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
If the 8th Circuit ruling is upheld, it could weaken the tools used by voters of color and voting rights activists to ensure voting access by marginalized groups by blocking individuals and private groups from using Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which passed in 1965, that allows citizens to bring legal challenges to redistricting decisions and other actions that weaken their voting power.
In their decision, the 8th Circuit judges noted that, in the past 40 years, at least 182 successful Section 2 cases have been filed and, of those, only 15 “were brought solely” by the attorney general.
Research contact: @washingtonpost