The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, Missouri, issued a 2-1 decision on Monday that individuals and private organizations, including the NAACP, do not have the authority to sue under a crucial section of the federal Voting Rights Act. This ruling goes against decades of established precedent and may further weaken protections under the 1965 law. The decision revolves around whether only the U.S. attorney general can enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which mandates the inclusion of districts in political maps where preferred candidates of minority populations can win elections.

According to the majority opinion, the absence of specific details in the wording of the voting law means that the court cannot fill in the gaps, except when ‘text and structure’ require it. This 2-1 decision contradicts previous precedents, as Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith noted in a dissenting opinion, emphasizing that federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court have considered numerous cases brought by private plaintiffs under Section 2.

Following this ruling, Sophia Lin Lakin, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, expressed grave concerns, labeling the decision a travesty for democracy. Meanwhile, Barry Jefferson, political action chair of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP, called the ruling a devastating blow to the civil rights of every American.

The case in question involved the Arkansas State Conference NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel challenging the state’s new House districts as diluting the influence of Black voters. The ruling only applies to federal courts covered by the 8th Circuit, including Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Furthermore, the decision has sparked discussions and debates among election law experts, with some pointing out the potential implications of limiting the number of challenges made under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Concerns have also been raised about the apparent contradiction between this decision and a previous Supreme Court ruling related to the Voting Rights Act. Given the potential impact of this ruling and the complexity of the issues at stake, it is likely that the case will be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for further deliberation.