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Court ruling limits voting district discrimination suits to those brought by the U.S. Department of Justice

January 2024, Deb Stetler

On November 20, 2023, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that private individuals and groups such as the NAACP have no right to sue under Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965.

Section 2 has typically been used to challenge voting districts which may be discriminatory. It reads “ No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.” The court ruling means that only the Department of Justice can file suit under Section 2.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling was made in response to a suit brought by the Arkansas State Conference NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. It claimed that newly drawn Arkansas state House districts diluted the influence of Black voters.The Court claimed that the “text and structure” of the VRA does not give private plaintiffs the right to sue. The ruling appears to contradict one made by the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, also in November of 2023, which rejected arguments that there is no private right to sue under the VRA.

The 8th Circuit Court ruling also appears to contradict the 2023 Supreme Court ruling in Allen v. Milligan. That suit was brought by Alabama voters, civil rights groups and faith groups. It asserted that Alabama’s new district maps violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The Court agreed with the Plaintiffs and ordered Alabama to redraw the maps so that they did not dilute Black voting power.

Given these disparate rulings, it seems likely that this question will eventually be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The League of Women Voters of the U.S. supports fair district maps and has an initiative, People Powered Fair Maps, to advocate for such maps.

Source: Christina A. Cassidy and Ayanna Alexander, Associated Press, November 20, 2023 (; Carrie Levine, Votebeat, December 11, 2023 ( and National Archives (