Tue, Jan 30, 2024 3:23 PM
By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square
A federal appeals court will not hear an appeal of a redistricting case that accused lawmakers of diluting Black voters, according to a ruling issued Tuesday.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit denied the review in a split decision. A three-member panel ruled in November that the private groups could not sue the government over the Voting Rights Act.
The Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel brought the suit in 2021 over redistricting lines drawn for the House of Representatives. Lawmakers drew 11 Black majority districts. The plaintiffs said there should have been 16.
The court admitted in the majority opinion that the case was complicated.
"The panel did the best it could with the case it had, one complicated by twists, turns, and shifting arguments, not to mention today’s invitation to shadow box with arguments no one made," the court said in its ruling.
Judges Steven M. Colloton, Jane Kelly and Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith dissented in favor of a review by the court. The dissenting judges said that the district court dismissed the case for "lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, and the ruling should not have been made at all.
"The plaintiffs established on appeal that the district court erred in dismissing the action without prejudice for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction," the judges said. "Rather than reverse and remand, however, the panel issued an unnecessary decision on the merits and improperly altered the judgment for the benefit of the State appellees. The court should grant rehearing to vacate the panel decision and put the case back on a proper procedural track."
The decision is a "gut-wrenching blow," said Janette McCarthy-Wallace, NAACP General Counsel.
"Since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, the ability for private parties to enforce its directives has been paramount to protecting, and advancing voting rights and access," McCarthy-Wallace said. "The Eighth Circuit has rejected years of precedent, and its decision is reflective of a judiciary system that has been plagued by the politics of today. We're not backing down from this fight."
Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin called the decision a "win for citizens."
“Arkansas’s redistricting process is done by Arkansans elected by their fellow Arkansans," Griffin said. “It is important to remember that even the Biden administration declined to side with the claims of the ACLU and NAACP in this suit.