Redistricting maps efforts are meeting court challenges around the country, including Arkansas, where the Arkansas State Conference NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel filed a lawsuit in December 2021 against the Arkansas Board of Apportionment. The argument claims changes to the voting districts dilutes the power of Black citizens.
New maps drawn for the upcoming election contained only 11 Black majority districts, one less than the 2011 maps compared with the state population changes over the ten-year period. Brian Sells, who argued for the plaintiffs, testified “Arkansas gained Black residents “both in absolute numbers as well as a percentage of the population,” while the white population fell by 110,000 people, “more than enough to populate three full House districts” as noted by Arkansas Online.
According to Politico, U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky says that while there are “strong merits case that at least some of the challenged districts in the lawsuit by two groups violate the federal Voting Rights Act,” he cannot rule on those merits unless the Department of Justice joins the suit.
“After a thorough analysis of the text and structure of the Voting Rights Act, and a painstaking journey through relevant caselaw, the Court has concluded that this case may be brought only by the Attorney General of the United States,” Rudofsky, who was named to the bench by former President Donald Trump, wrote.
The Department of Justice has five days to join the suit before it’s dismissed. The ACLU also stated that “Black Arkansans make up more than 16% of the statewide population, the adopted plan includes only 11 majority-Black districts out of 100 total House districts.”
Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who is on the Republican-controlled panel along with Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Secretary of State John Thurston, stated this:
“I am extremely pleased with the district court’s decision effectively dismissing the plaintiffs’ frivolous request to order new House district maps for the 2022 election,” Rutledge said in a statement. “Arkansans can now move forward with choosing their elected representatives.”
Holly Dickson, Executive Director, ACLU of Arkansas, commented on the ruling.
“Arkansas has a history of official voting-related discrimination on the basis of race, and this new map limits Black voting strength. The court held that there is a strong case that some of the challenged districts currently in the board plan are unlawful under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, but that no one but the federal government can now sue for violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”