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ACLU continues Arkansas redistricting lawsuit

A "vote here" sign marks the entrance to an early voting station in downtown Minneapolis in 2018.
Steve Karnowski
The ACLU says recently drawn district maps weaken the power of voters of color in Arkansas.

The American Civil Liberties Union is appealing a lower court ruling in a redistricting case.

Arkansas State Conference NAACP v. Arkansas Board of Apportionment is a lawsuit over Arkansas' Congressional redistricting process. The lawsuit was initially filed in 2021, after district maps were redrawn based on data from the 2020 census.

The ACLU claims the new district maps violate the rights of people of color. The group says the new maps were drawn to dilute the power and influence of Black voters, specifically.

“This decision is egregious," said Kymara Seals, policy director of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “The Black population is 16%, yet we only have 11 districts. It's not fair. It's not equitable.”

Barry Jefferson is the president of the state conference of the NAACP which is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“We're going to continue to fight for our community,” he said. “They have the right to vote for the candidate of their choice.”

A three-judge panel of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals did not side with the ACLU in a recent decision. In a 2-1 ruling, the panel said the ACLU had made good arguments.

“From what the Court has seen thus far,” it said. “There is a strong merits case that at least some of the challenged districts in the Board Plan are unlawful under § 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”

They went on to conclude that only the U.S. attorney general and representatives from the government can file lawsuits based on the Voting Rights Act. Seals says this is ridiculous.

“Its ludicrous to say only the government can sue the government.” Seals went on to say that the ruling violated almost six decades of precedent.

Sophia Lin Lakin, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, called the panel's decision “wrong and dangerous.”

“This is a radical decision that is contrary to decades of precedent and practice,” she said.

The ACLU will be appealing the case to the full Eighth Circuit.

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.