State Watch

Judge to dismiss challenge to Arkansas legislative maps unless DOJ joins case

Arkansas state flag
Associated Press/Beth Hall, file

A federal judge said he will dismiss a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’s new legislative maps unless the Department of Justice joins the case as a plaintiff, The Associated Press reported

In a ruling on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky, who was appointed to the bench by former President Trump, said he had “concluded that this case may be brought only by the Attorney General of the United States” and gave the department five days to join as a plaintiff before he dismisses it.

Rudofsky also said in his 42-page ruling that there is “a strong merits case that at least some of the challenged districts” in the lawsuit violate the Voting Rights Act, according to the AP. 

The lawsuit, filed by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel and Arkansas State Conference NAACP, challenged the state’s new House districts and sought a preliminary injunction to block them, the wire service reported.

The groups argued in the lawsuit that the redistricting plan approved by Arkansas’s GOP-controlled Board of Apportionment created too few majority Black districts, the AP reported. The new boundaries would include 11 such districts.

“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 wrote in his ruling. 

“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,” Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R), a member of the state’s Board of Apportionment, said in a statement, according to the AP. “Arkansans can now move forward with choosing their elected representatives.”

The other members of the board are Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and Secretary of State John Thurston (R). Republicans also hold majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the plaintiffs, said the ruling went against decades of precedent.

“For more than 50 years, private individuals have relied on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to protect the most fundamental right in our democracy, and to prevent racial discrimination from tainting our elections,” Jonathan Topaz, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “Until today, no court had ever questioned that private individuals may enforce their rights under the VRA.”

The decision comes just days before eligible candidates can begin filing for legislative and state offices in the state, a period that lasts one week, the AP reported.

Tags Arkansas Asa Hutchinson Congressional map Donald Trump Redistricting

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