The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit has made a ruling that could significantly impact the Voting Rights Act in seven states, including Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The panel of judges stated that only the federal government, specifically the U.S. attorney general, has the authority to bring a suit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, effectively limiting the ability of citizens and civil rights groups to challenge voting rights violations.
This decision comes as a blow to private citizens and civil rights groups, who have historically taken on the burden of litigating voting rights cases. With limited resources, the Department of Justice is only able to pursue a small fraction of these cases, leaving the majority in the hands of private individuals and organizations.
Experts in election law and redistricting have expressed concern over the potential impact of this ruling, with some even going as far as to say that it could “decimate” the Voting Rights Act. The case in question involved challenges to redistricting maps in Arkansas, where a significant number of majority-Black districts were drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The ruling, which goes against decades of precedent, highlights the ongoing debate over whether Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act provides a “private right of action.” While some experts believe that the decision will be overturned on appeal, it is currently the law of the land in the seven states affected.
In addition to the implications for voting rights in Arkansas, the ruling also overturns a recent win for Native American voters in North Dakota. A federal judge had previously ruled that North Dakota state lawmakers had diluted the voting rights of two Native American tribes, a decision that is now in jeopardy due to the appeals court ruling.
This development raises concerns about the future of voting rights enforcement and the role of private citizens and organizations in challenging violations. The potential impact of this ruling on marginalized communities across the affected states underscores the significance of ongoing efforts to protect voting rights for all citizens.