Court ruling on Black voters’ right to sue under Voting Rights Act is ‘unconscionable’

Jonathan Miller of the Public Rights Project says the order is part of a “concerted effort by extreme conservative judges and advocates to hollow out the [VRA].”

Members of Congress and civil rights activists are condemning a federal appeals court ruling that threatens the enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

On Monday, a three-judge panel for the St. Louis-based Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit ruled that private citizens, those not affiliated with the federal government, are prohibited from bringing a lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

WASHINGTON DC, UNITED STATES – 2021/08/03: The Poor People’s Campaign rallied and marched in Washington DC, where faith leaders, low-wage workers, and poor people from around the country protested for the US Senate to end the filibuster, protect voting rights, and raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. Hundreds were arrested in a non-violent act of civil disobedience outside the Hart Senate building. (Photo by Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Jonathan Miller, chief program officer at the Public Rights Project, told theGrio, “This outcome is unconscionable.” 

“The Supreme Court itself has recognized the ability of private litigants to bring Section 2 claims,” he said.

Miller added that the court’s ruling is “part of a very concerted effort by extreme conservative judges and advocates to hollow out the Voting Rights Act.”

For years, private U.S. citizens and groups have brought most of the cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Those lawsuits include challenges to state voting laws or Congressional maps that several courts have argued violate the constitutional rights of Black voters. 

In a statement obtained by theGrio, U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “Congress must act to protect voting rights for Black voters and voters of color.”

“The Congressional Black Caucus will not stop until we pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act,” said Horsford.

BALTIMORE – MARCH 2: CBC chair Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., speaks during the Congressional Black Caucus news conference at the House Democrats 2023 Issues Conference in Baltimore, Md., on Thursday, March 2, 2023. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

This comes just weeks after civil and voting rights groups filed a federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s new election law that they say will make casting a ballot difficult for Black voters. A similar lawsuit was filed by the Democratic National Committee and the North Carolina Democratic Party. 

On Tuesday, plaintiffs Rodney D. Pierce and Moses Matthews filed a lawsuit challenging North Carolina’s senate district maps on the grounds that they violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. 

In response to Monday’s appellate court ruling, Miller said, “It’s not coincidental that you would see a ruling like this.”

He believes the VRA ruling is intended to keep voter suppression tactics in place and stop gerrymandering efforts from being reversed. 

Earlier this year, advocates used Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to prevent the enforcement of Alabama’s Congressional map, which the Supreme Court argued discriminated against Black voters. In September, a special master was appointed to redraw the map to ensure Black Alabamians have a second majority-Black district in time for the 2024 midterm elections. 

Miller told theGrio, “I think this [ruling] is a direct response to lawyers for the NAACP, elders, the ACLU and other groups,” who were successful in having Alabama’s Congressional map redrawn, by saying “Section 2 can’t be enforceable anymore.”  

He also said that the Supreme Court’s handling of certain cases “has invited courts of appeals to take these bold and reckless actions.” 

Miller continued: “This [ruling] is a result of an incredibly conservative Supreme Court and incredibly conservative judges and appellate courts who are really trying to push the law as far and as quickly as they can and see what they can get away with.”

Congressman Horsford said the recent decision from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is “ill-advised” and “cannot stand.” 

“[It] should be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which we hope will reaffirm that citizens have a private right of action to bring forward lawsuits under Section 2,” said Horsford.

Miller said he believes that this case will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court as it is “deeply problematic.”

He added, “Something’s going to need to be done and done quickly.” 

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