Groups appeal dismissal of Arkansas redistricting case

The American Civil Liberties Union is appealing a judge's decision to dismiss a lawsuit by two groups who say Arkansas' new state House districts dilute the influence of Black voters in the state

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday appealed a judge's decision to dismiss a lawsuit that claims Arkansas' new state House districts dilute the influence of Black voters in the state.

The ACLU filed the appeal on behalf of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, which had sued challenging the state's redistricting plan for its 100 House seats.

The plan created 11 majority-Black districts, which the groups challenging the map argued was too few. They argued the state could have drawn 16 majority-Black districts to more closely mirror the state’s Black population. According to the 2020 Census, 16.5% of the state's population identifies as Black alone or in combination with another race.

The groups argue that the redistricting plan violates the Voting Rights Act, the 1965 law banning voting procedures or practices that discriminate based on race, by substantially under-representing Black voters.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky dismissed the lawsuit on Tuesday, ruling that private parties don't have a right to challenge the districts under the Voting Rights Act. Rudofsky, who was nominated to the bench by former President Donald Trump, gave the Justice Department five days to intervene, but it declined to do so.

“No court has ever held that private individuals may not enforce their rights under the VRA," Holly Dickson, executive director of the ACLU of Arkansas, said in a statement. “We will keep fighting alongside our clients to make sure that voting rights of Black Arkansans are protected.”

The one-week period for candidates to file to run for state and federal office in Arkansas began on Tuesday.

The Republican-controlled state Board of Apportionment approved the new boundaries in December. The panel is comprised of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Rutledge and Secretary of State John Thurston. Republicans hold a majority in both chambers of the Legislature.