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The 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a significant blow to a crucial tool employed to uphold the Voting Rights Act, potentially setting the stage for a Supreme Court showdown over one of America’s cornerstone civil rights laws.

Sec. 2 of Voting Rights Act

The ruling, originating from an Arkansas redistricting case, holds that private entities are not permitted to bring lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. This provision, integral to combating racial discrimination in elections, has been a linchpin of the law since its enactment in 1965.

In a 2-1 decision, the judges asserted that the “text and structure” of the voting rights statute indicate that Congress did not confer the authority to sue under Section 2 to private plaintiffs. This decision upholds a 2022 ruling by a federal judge appointed by Donald Trump, asserting that only the US Justice Department possesses the standing to bring Section 2 lawsuits.

Contrary to established legal practices, the decision challenges the predominant approach, as the majority of cases brought under the Voting Rights Act involve private plaintiffs.

Contradicting basic principles

Eliminating individuals’ right to sue under Section 2 contradicts fundamental principles of fairness. Paul Smith, Senior Vice President of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, stated, “When the government discriminates against people, they should have the right to fight back in court.”

The case in question originated with a challenge by the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel against Arkansas’ state House map. The ruling extends to the seven states within the 8th Circuit: Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

More political battles

As the nation gears up for the 2024 presidential campaign, this decision takes on added significance amid ongoing political battles over voting procedures, fueled by baseless claims of election fraud made by former President Donald Trump.

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