ACLU Comment on Arkansas Redistricting Ruling
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A federal court today issued a decision dismissing a challenge to the new redistricting plan for the Arkansas State House of Representatives unless the United States intervenes in the case.
The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Arkansas, Law Office of Bryan L. Sells LLC, and Dechert LLP challenged the plan under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) on behalf of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.
According to the lawsuit, the new state House map denies Black Arkansans an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice, as required under federal law.
The House plan, adopted by the Arkansas Board of Apportionment, dilutes the voting strength of Black voters in Central Arkansas, the Upper Delta, the Lower Delta, and Southwest Arkansas.
Despite the fact that Black Arkansans make up more than 16% of the statewide population, the adopted plan includes only 11 majority-Black districts out of 100 total House districts.
Remarkably, the adopted House plan reduces the number of majority-Black districts compared to the state House map adopted in 2011 — even as the Black population in the state grew and the white population declined — over the last decade.
The groups challenged the maps in December 2021, and a preliminary injunction hearing was recently argued in federal court in Little Rock.
The court today held that private parties like the plaintiffs in this case may not sue to protect their voting rights under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, reasoning that only the U.S. attorney general may bring a case under the statute. In doing so, the court ignored decades of precedent permitting private individuals to vindicate their rights under the VRA. While the court dismissed this case, the opinion has no precedential value beyond this litigation.
The court provided the United States with five calendar days to indicate whether it wishes to intervene.
The following reactions are from:
Holly Dickson, Executive Director, ACLU of Arkansas: “Arkansas has a history of official voting-related discrimination on the basis of race, and this new map limits Black voting strength. The court held that there is a strong case that some of the challenged districts currently in the board plan are unlawful under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, but that no one but the federal government can now sue for violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
Jonathan Topaz, Staff Attorney, ACLU’s Voting Rights Project: “For more than 50 years, private individuals have relied on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to protect the most fundamental right in our democracy, and to prevent racial discrimination from tainting our elections. Until today, no court had ever questioned that private individuals may enforce their rights under the VRA. But we will continue to fight against brazen and unlawful attempts to undermine voting rights in Arkansas and around the country.”
The ACLU has been watching key states across the country to ensure new electoral maps are fairly drawn, upholding the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and complying with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The ACLU has filed redistricting litigation in Ohio, South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Arkansas.
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