A Voting Rights Discrimination Case

The 8th Circuit has ruled that private parties cannot bring suit over voting rights discrimination under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; only the US Attorney General can. The 8th Circuit stands alone among courts and against long-standing precedent here. It’s still correct on the matter.

The court’s decision, in summary, said the

Arkansas branch of the NAACP and another organization couldn’t challenge the district lines drawn for the Arkansas House of Representatives after the 2020 census.

Circuit Judge David Stras, for the majority:

If the 1965 Congress “clearly intended” to create a private right of action, then why not say so in the statute? If not then, why not later, when Congress amended § 2?

Indeed. What does the text of the law say, rather than what do judges want it to say? What the law says, as Stras says, is clear. § 2 and the 15th Amendment to our Constitution both prohibited purposeful discrimination in voting rights and district boundary-drawing, and enforcement of that was put squarely in the hands of the US Attorney General and nowhere else. Congress subsequently amended § 2 to add a discriminatory-effects test. Congress did not, though, broaden who had authority to bring suit under the section, not even to add State Attorneys General, much less private parties.

My concern here, though, is the logic of the dissenting judge, Chief Judge Lavenski Smith [ellipses in the quoted part, which Smith is quoting from Singleton v Merrill, are Smith’s].

“Since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, federal courts across the country, including…the Supreme Court…, have considered numerous Section Two cases brought by private plaintiffs.” … Rights so foundational to self-government and citizenship should not depend solely on the discretion or availability of the government’s agents for protection[.]

Regarding that last, I repeat: what does the text of the law say, rather than what do judges want it to say?

Regarding Smith’s prior reference to precedent, he’s right about the importance of precedent. However, it doesn’t matter how long is the line for an existing court precedent; if the precedent was wrongly decided (or if the conditions warranting it no longer exist), that precedent is legitimately, and must be, overturned.

The 8th Circuit ruling can be read here.

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