Private Plaintiffs Restricted from Suing Under Voting Rights Act, Appeals Court Rules

by Ethan Kim
Voting Rights Act Ruling

Private Plaintiffs Restricted from Suing Under Voting Rights Act, Appeals Court Rules

On Monday, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, headquartered in St. Louis, issued a significant ruling impacting the federal Voting Rights Act. The court, in a 2-1 decision, declared that private parties and organizations, including the NAACP, lack the authority to initiate lawsuits under a crucial portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This ruling is seen as a potential setback for voting rights, potentially diminishing the protections established by the historic legislation.

The court, with Judges David R. Stras and Raymond W. Gruender forming the majority, concluded that the enforcement of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which targets discriminatory voting practices such as racial gerrymandering, is exclusively within the purview of the U.S. attorney general. This section was the cornerstone of the recent decision. The majority opinion, written by Judge Stras, a Donald Trump appointee, and supported by Judge Gruender, a George W. Bush appointee, highlighted the absence of explicit language in the Voting Rights Act allowing private legal action, unlike in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This verdict upholds an earlier decision by a lower court to reject a lawsuit filed by the Arkansas State Conference NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. The case was initially dismissed after the court gave U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland a five-day window to join the lawsuit, an opportunity he did not take. Responses from both the NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel were not available at the time of reporting.

Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith, another George W. Bush appointee, presented a contrasting view in his dissent. He emphasized that both the Supreme Court and various federal courts have historically entertained cases brought by private entities under Section 2. Judge Smith advocated adherence to this precedent, suggesting that the right to legal recourse should not be contingent solely on governmental intervention.

The impact of this decision is confined to the jurisdictions within the 8th Circuit, encompassing Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. It emerges amidst a backdrop of ongoing legal challenges by private groups against political districting maps nationwide.

The Justice Department has not issued any statement regarding this ruling.

This report was compiled with contributions from Cassidy in Atlanta and Mark Sherman in Washington, D.C., and is a part of the Big Big News coverage, supported by the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation. The Associated Press, which maintains full editorial control over its content, is spearheading this democracy initiative.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Voting Rights Act Ruling

What was the recent ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the Voting Rights Act?

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that private individuals and groups, including the NAACP, are not permitted to file lawsuits under a key section of the Voting Rights Act. This decision, made by a divided panel, limits legal actions to the U.S. attorney general, specifically regarding Section 2 which addresses discriminatory voting practices.

How does this ruling affect the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act?

This ruling significantly affects the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act by restricting the ability of private parties to challenge voting practices they deem discriminatory. It concentrates the enforcement power in the hands of the U.S. attorney general, potentially impacting the immediacy and extent of actions against voting rights violations.

What was the majority opinion in the court’s decision?

The majority opinion, authored by U.S. Circuit Judge David R. Stras and joined by Judge Raymond W. Gruender, stated that the Voting Rights Act does not explicitly allow private lawsuits, unlike the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They emphasized that filling in these gaps is not within the court’s jurisdiction unless explicitly required by the law’s text and structure.

What was the dissenting opinion in this ruling?

Chief Judge Lavenski R. Smith, in his dissenting opinion, pointed out that federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have historically considered cases filed by private plaintiffs under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. He argued for adherence to this precedent, stressing that voting rights should not solely depend on government enforcement.

Which regions are affected by this ruling?

The ruling specifically applies to states within the jurisdiction of the 8th Circuit, which includes Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. However, its implications could influence broader discussions and legal interpretations of the Voting Rights Act across the United States.

More about Voting Rights Act Ruling

  • Voting Rights Act Overview
  • 8th Circuit Court of Appeals
  • U.S. Attorney General’s Role
  • Legal Precedents in Voting Rights
  • NAACP’s Involvement in Voting Rights Cases
  • Impact of Judicial Decisions on Civil Rights
  • Federal Appeals Court Systems
  • Analysis of the 1965 Voting Rights Act
  • History of Racial Gerrymandering Cases
  • Discussion on Private Lawsuits in Civil Rights Legislation

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Linda_from_Iowa November 21, 2023 - 10:46 am

As an Iowan, this hits close. Our voting laws are already tight. Concerned about how this will affect our local issues.

Sara K November 21, 2023 - 4:24 pm

this is a step back, really. we need more voices in these battles, not less. how can we make sure our rights are protected now?

Jenny M. November 21, 2023 - 6:56 pm

Wow, this is huge! kinda worrying though, what if the AG doesn’t take up important cases? Private groups played a big role in fighting for voting rights…

Mike87 November 21, 2023 - 7:56 pm

not surprised, courts been leaning this way for a while. but, doesnt this go against lots of precedents?


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