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ACLU Appealing Dismissal of Challenge to AR Redistricting Map


Monday, February 28, 2022   

The ACLU of Arkansas is appealing a decision by a federal judge who dismissed a challenge to a new state House map, saying the plan hurts Black voters and violates the Voting Rights Act.

In a ruling earlier this month, a U.S. district judge wrote private individuals do not have the right to sue under the Voting Rights Act, and only the U.S. Attorney General may bring a case under the statute.

Gary Sullivan, legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in 50-plus years of the law, no federal judge has ever made such a ruling. He pointed out until there is an appeal decision, the map will be in place, including for the upcoming May primary.

"Until that happens, the effect is the Black voters in Arkansas have had their vote diluted," Sullivan contended. "And it will be hard if not impossible for Black voters to elect candidates of choice, which is required by Section Two of the Voting Rights Act."

The U.S. Department of Justice has declined to intervene in the case. The suit was filed on behalf of the Arkansas State Conference NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.

Leslie Rutledge, the Attorney General who is named in the suit for her role on the Board of Apportionment, said in a statement she is "pleased Arkansans can confidently move forward with the election process."

The lawsuit alleges the map unnecessarily splits Black communities living in the Upper Delta, Lower Delta and Central and Southwest Arkansas.

Barry Jefferson, political action chair for the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP, said the House voting map does not accurately reflect the Black population in Arkansas, which grew by an estimated 30,000 people, according to U.S. census data.

"We saw where we should be increasing in our representation of districts in our state, and it didn't show it," Jefferson remarked. "So we had to file a lawsuit because we had to represent the people in our membership and people that felt it was unjust."

Of the 100 House districts, 11 are considered Black majority voting districts, but the ACLU argued 16 districts would be more reflective of the state's demographics. The case now goes to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, where a decision is likely in eight to 12 months.

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