Appeals Court Limits Rights Under Voting Rights Act

(VitalNews.org) – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit issued a ruling on Monday, November 20, that states only federal government may sue under the Voting Rights Act, as opposed to private citizens or lobby groups. The ruling was made by a majority decision, with two judges in favor and one opposed to the decision and looks likely to make its way to the Supreme Court.

Restricting the ability of private individuals and organizations to sue contravenes earlier decades of legal precedent, but it does support a decision made in 2022 by U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky, an appointee of former president Donald Trump. Rudofsky dismissed a lawsuit created by a branch of Arkansas’ NAACP along with the Arkansas Public Policy Panel which sought to fight changes made to House districts in Arkansas on the basis that it reduced the number of black majority districts from 12 to 11. The re-districting plan, approved by the Republican-run Arkansas Board of Apportionment, also created one Hispanic majority district.

Critics of both the Rudofsky decision and the more recent 8th Circuit ruling have argued that such decisions undermine the ordinary voter’s ability to protect the integrity of their vote and could weaken the protections afforded by the Voting Rights Act. Supporters, such as Arkansas’ Attorney General Tim Griffin, say that it will prevent lobbyists from filing “meritless lawsuits” and attempting to take control of how states run their own elections. Griffin, a Republican, added that it would ensure that enforcement of the Voting Rights Act would be handled by people who could be held accountable, as opposed to niche interest groups.

Writing for the majority decision of the 8th Circuit, Judge David Stras explained that the Voting Rights Act did not specifically set out the ability for a private citizen to file a lawsuit. Dissenting, Chief Judge Lavenski Smith wrote in his statement that he would continue to allow individuals or private organizations to file a lawsuit until the Supreme Court ruled against doing so, arguing that he would be following prior decades of legal precedent. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit covers seven states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Arkansas, and Minnesota.

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