Judge will dismiss Arkansas redistricting case unless DOJ joins

A federal judge said Thursday he was dismissing a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ new State House districts as diluting the influence of black voters unless the Justice Department joins the case in as complainant.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky said there was “a strong argument that at least some of the disputed districts” in the lawsuit brought by two groups violate federal suffrage law. But, in a 42-page decision, Rudofsky said he could not comment on the merits of the case and gave the Justice Department five days to join as a plaintiff before dismissing it.

“After a thorough analysis of the text and structure of the Voting Rights Act, and a careful tracing through the relevant case law, the Court has concluded that this case can only be brought by the Attorney General of the United States “, Rudofsky, who was named to the bench by former President Donald Trump, wrote.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the decision.

The decision comes days before candidates can begin submitting nominations to legislative and state offices in Arkansas. The one-week deposit period begins on Tuesday.

The Arkansas Public Policy Panel and the Arkansas State Conference NAACP had filed a lawsuit challenging the new lines for all 100 districts in the state and sought a preliminary injunction blocking them.

The state redistricting plan created 11 majority black districts, which groups challenging the map said were too few. They argued that the state could have attracted 16 majority black districts to more closely reflect the state’s black population.

The new boundaries were approved in December by the Republican-controlled State Allocation Council. The panel is made up of Governor Asa Hutchinson, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Secretary of State John Thurston. Republicans hold a majority in both houses of the Legislative Assembly.

“I am extremely pleased with the district court’s decision effectively denying plaintiffs’ frivolous request to order new House district maps for the 2022 election,” Rutledge said in a statement. “The Arkansans can now move forward with choosing their elected representatives.”

Rudofsky’s ruling focused primarily on whether private parties can sue to enforce the VRA, not on claims challenging the new State House districts.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of groups challenging the districts, said Rudofsky’s decision ignores decades of precedent.

“For more than 50 years, individuals have relied on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to protect our democracy’s most fundamental right and to prevent racial discrimination from tainting our elections,” Jonathan Topaz , staff attorney for the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “Until today, no court has ever questioned whether individuals can enforce their rights under the VRA.”

Last month, the DOJ filed a “statement of interest” in the case that said private parties could sue to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

“The limited federal resources available for voting rights law enforcement reinforce the need for a private cause of action,” the filing said last month.

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