LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The American Civil Liberties Union today appealed a federal district court ruling that dismissed a challenge to a newly drawn Arkansas state House map.
The ACLU, ACLU of Arkansas, Law Office of Bryan L. Sells LLC, and Dechert LLP are challenging the map 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.
The groups allege that the new 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 Feb. 17 ruling issued in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas held that private parties like the plaintiffs in this case may not sue to protect their voting rights under Section 2 of the VRA, 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. The court further ruled that the case would be dismissed if the federal government didn’t intervene. While it notified the court that it did not intend to intervene at this stage, the federal government reiterated its position that private parties are permitted to sue under the VRA.
The following is comment on today’s appeal:
Holly Dickson, Executive Director, ACLU of Arkansas:
“The court held that no one but the federal government can now sue for violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. No court has ever held that private individuals may not enforce their rights under the VRA. We will keep fighting alongside our clients to make sure that voting rights of Black Arkansans are protected.”
Sophia Lin Lakin, Deputy Director, ACLU’s Voting Rights Project: “This ruling was so radical that there was no choice but to appeal it. Private individuals have brought cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to protect their right to vote for generations. The court’s action contravenes decades of Supreme Court and Eighth Circuit precedent. This ruling should not be allowed to stand.”
Barry Jefferson, Political Action Chair, Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP: “Redistricting maps drawn with the clear and present effect of diluting the representation of Black Arkansans must be challenged publicly. This wanton infringement on the sacred right to choose the voice that best represents one’s community stands in direct conflict with American democracy. Unfair redistricting practices must be resisted vigorously.”
Bill Kopsky, Arkansas Public Policy Panel: “Voting rights aren’t a partisan issue. Arkansas’s current House map fails to accurately reflect its growing Black population and deepens the systemic inequalities we face. This is a fight that absolutely needs fighting and we will march forward.”
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.