US appeals court will not reconsider ruling limiting voting rights law’s scope


By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Tuesday declined to reconsider a ruling holding that only the U.S. government, not private parties, can sue under a landmark civil rights law barring racial discrimination in voting.

The full 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a request by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and the Arkansas State Conference NAACP to reconsider a 2-1 ruling by a panel of judges holding that private plaintiffs cannot bring cases enforcing Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The panel’s November decision marked the first time a federal appeals court had reached such a conclusion. The vast majority of Voting Rights Act lawsuits for decades have been filed by private parties, not the U.S. Department of Justice.

The plaintiffs, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, have called that decision “radical.” They could now seek to further appeal the 8th Circuit’s ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ACLU did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The ruling came in a lawsuit challenging a redistricting plan for the Arkansas State House of Representatives that the two groups alleged undermined the voting power of Black people in the Republican-led state.

In 2022, U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky, an Arkansas federal judge appointed by former Republican President Donald Trump, held that only the U.S. attorney general is empowered to file lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

That provision prohibits voting rules that are racially discriminatory.

In November’s 2-1 opinion authored by U.S. Circuit Judge David Stras, another Trump appointee, the 8th Circuit held that the law does not lay out a “private right of action,” even though courts including the Supreme Court have taken on such cases for decades.

Three judges dissented from Thursday’s decision to not have the full 8th Circuit rehear the case, including U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Colloton, an appointee of Republican former President George W. Bush, who called the November ruling “flawed.”

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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