Groundless Circuit Court Ruling Undermines Voting Rights Act in Multiple States


For more than 40 years, private individuals and groups have brought claims under Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) to challenge discriminatory districts and ensure that voters of color have an equal opportunity to have their voices heard in our democracy.  

Just this past term, in Allen v. Milligan, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a case brought by individual voters challenging racially discriminatory maps passed by the Alabama legislature. However, today a three-judge panel of the 8th Circuit of Appeals upheld a lower court decision over voting maps in Arkansas, ruling that private individuals and groups cannot bring lawsuits under Section 2.  

The 8th Circuit’s ruling contradicts more than 40 years of court decisions awarding relief to private litigants under the VRA and conflicts with the Supreme Court's recent decision in Allen v. Milligan. Moreover, the ruling is out of step with other circuits, including the Fifth Circuit, which just this month affirmed the right of private plaintiffs to bring claims under Section 2. 

In response, Paul Smith, senior vice president of Campaign Legal Center, issued the following statement:  

“Eliminating individual people's right to sue under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act runs contrary to settled law, common sense and any basic concept of fairness: when the government discriminates against people, they should have a right to fight back in court. 

If today’s erroneous ruling were to be upheld, it would have a significant impact on the rights of voters of color to challenge discriminatory redistricting maps. Private suits under the VRA are critical to ensuring that voters of color are able to secure fair maps and make their voices heard. 

The fight is far from over.  CLC will continue working alongside our partners to fight back against today’s clearly incorrect decision and make sure that voters of color can continue to use Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to secure fair maps and make their voices heard in our democracy.” 

CLC submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case decided today, Arkansas NAACP v. Arkansas, on behalf of former U.S. Department of Justice officials arguing that private lawsuits are critical to enforcing the VRA. Historically, the majority of Section 2 cases have been brought by private litigants — with thousands of litigants bringing such cases over the past few decades. 

The Eighth Circuit's ruling — which applies to Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota — provides that only the Attorney General of the United States can bring lawsuits to challenge discriminatory maps under the VRA, though it leaves open the possibility that private groups can seek relief under other federal statutes.