A new appeals court weakens the Voting Rights Act. It is likely bound for the Supreme Court


The Supreme Court last term sided with voting rights groups in a major decision about Alabama’s congressional districts.


WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court issued a ruling Monday that limits who can sue under the Voting Rights Act, a decision that if allowed to stand would severely undermine enforcement of the landmark 1965 law.

A 2-1 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit found that only the U.S. Attorney General is authorized to sue under a key section of the law, meaning voters and groups like the NAACP would be barred from doing so.

The decision, which is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court, applies to seven states: Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Two public advocacy groups, the Arkansas NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, sued over Arkansas’ state legislative maps.

All three judges, including Chief Judge Lavenski Smith, who dissented, were appointed by Republican presidents.

Section two of the Voting Rights Act bars voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color or other characteristics. Less than six months ago, the Supreme Court decided a major section two case from Alabama in favor of private groups who sued.

In that 5-4 decision by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court knocked down Alabama’s argument that race shouldn’t be a factor at all in the way the state drew its congressional maps. The state’s maps included one district out of seven with a majority of Black voters. African Americans account for more than a quarter of the state’s overall population.

While that decision was a win for voting rights groups, it followed a series of others decisions that have undermined the Voting Right Act.

In 2021 Supreme Court upheld an Arizona law barring unions and advocacy organizations from collecting voters’ mail-in ballots, a practice critics call “ballot harvesting.” The court signaled that challenges to voting rules brought under the Voting Rights Act’s prohibition on discrimination – though still possible – may become far harder to win. That opinion came eight years after the court gutted another provision of the Voting Rights Act that permitted the Justice Department to review election laws in states with a history of racial discrimination.

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