A federal court declines to revisit a ruling that could weaken the Voting Rights Act

Activists take part in a voting rights protest in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., in 2021.

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Alex Wong/Getty Images

Activists take part in a voting rights protest in front of the White House in Washington, D.C., in 2021.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

A federal appeals court has denied a request to revisit a ruling that could undermine a key tool for enforcing the Voting Rights Act’s protections against racial discrimination in the election process.

It’s the latest move in an Arkansas state legislative redistricting case, filed by civil rights groups representing Black voters in the southern state, that could turn into the next U.S. Supreme Court battle that limits the scope of the landmark civil rights law.

The full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals released its decision Tuesday after attorneys led by the American Civil Liberties Union appealed the ruling by a three-judge panel last year.

That panel found that federal law does not allow private groups and individuals — who have for decades brought the majority of lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act — to sue because that law does not explicitly name them. Only the head of the Justice Department, the panel found, can bring these kinds of lawsuits.

How a Supreme Court justice's paragraph put the Voting Rights Act in more danger

For now, the panel’s ruling, which upheld a lower court ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky, applies only to the seven states in the 8th Circuit, which includes Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Other federal courts — including a 5th Circuit panel that weighed in on a congressional redistricting case in Louisiana last November — have disagreed with the 8th Circuit panel and Rudofsky, finding that there is what’s known in the legal world as a private right of action under Section 2.

Still, conservative Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas have signaled they’re interested in hearing a case that focuses on this issue.

Edited by Benjamin Swasey

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