Although they make up 13.6% of the US population, in parts of the US South, Black Americans can be up to 40% of the population of some states. That same region also has a centuries-long history of depriving that population of their rights – a legacy of the 246-year period when Black people were enslaved laborers for white slaveowners.In a Monday ruling, a US federal court has dealt what legal experts describe as a devastating blow to the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the law that banned “Jim Crow” racial segregation and other forms of racial discrimination in the United States.The 8th Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 on Monday that Section 2 of the 1965 law does not provide for “private right of action,” meaning individuals and civil rights groups cannot sue under the law, only the federal government can.
“After reviewing the text, history, and structure of the Voting Rights Act, the district court concluded that private parties cannot enforce Section 2,” the judges wrote. “The enforcement power belonged solely to the Attorney General of the United States.”
The ruling upheld a lower court’s decision from 2021.Sophia Lin Lakin, the director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who argued the case before the court, told US media, “the ruling has put the Voting Rights Act in jeopardy, and is very cavalierly tossing aside critical protections that voters have very much fought and died for.”AmericasSCOTUS Rejects Alabama Effort to Block Congressional Map With Two Majority-Black Districts27 September, 03:54 GMTLakin added that the ruling would create “orders of magnitude of a difference” for enforcing the Voting Rights Act, which had seen challenges from individuals and organizations for decades.“It’s hard to overstate how important and detrimental this decision would be if allowed to stand,” Rick Hasen, a prominent election law expert at UCLA Law School, wrote on Election Law Blog. “If minority voters are going to continue to elect representatives of their choice, they are going to need private attorneys to bring those suits.”The actual case comes from Arkansas and is about allegations of racial gerrymandering, or the unnatural shaping of electoral districts to create unfair voting conditions for certain social groups or political parties. The lawsuit, brought by the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and others, accused the state legislature of drawing legislative districts that diluted the power of the Black voters in the state, effectively ensuring that mostly white politicians would win elections.The NAACP was founded in 1909 and played a key role in the decades-long legal challenges to “Jim Crow,” as the system of racial segregation in the American South was called. Jim Crow effectively deprived Black citizens of the right to vote and mandated separate facilities and institutions for Black and white people, relegating Black folks to inferior ones even though the 1898 Supreme Court ruling that legalized segregation technically required them to be equal.
In 1954, the high court found the “separate but equal” principle was impossible to achieve and invalidated the 1898 ruling, but only in 1964 did Congress pass a law banning all forms of racial discrimination across the United States. The following year, the Voting Rights Act provided additional protections against racial discrimination in voting – a right expressly protected by the US Constitution.
In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act that required districts with a history of doing so to get approval from the federal government before changing their voting regulations. For decades before the law was passed, Southern states with large Black minorities had used voting requirements such as literacy tests and intimidation to stop would-be Black voters from casting their ballots.By Any Means NecessaryThe History of Repression Against Black Radicals in The US28 September, 04:15 GMTIn the decade since, the law has faced numerous challenges, including in North Carolina and Alabama, where the US Supreme Court has ruled lawmakers racially gerrymandered electoral districts and ordered them to redraw the maps.