Side view of Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock. (John Sykes/Arkansas Advocate)
A panel of three federal judges on Monday dismissed half of the lawsuit challenging the redistricting of Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District.
The judges gave the plaintiffs, who are challenging the redrawn district primarily over claims of racial gerrymandering, 30 days to amend their complaint to focus more on the three remaining claims.
The three outstanding claims include:
- That the new district violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by degrading Black residents’ impact on the vote in the 2nd district as well as their ability to be elected to represent the Central Arkansas congressional district.
- That the new district violates the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits abridging the right to vote on the basis of race.
- That the new district violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which also prohibits abridging the right to vote on the basis of race.
“What we can say at this stage is that the plaintiffs are a few specific factual allegations short of pleading a plausible vote-dilution claim,” the panel ruled. “Nevertheless, given that it is possible they can still plead one, we will give them another chance to do so.”
The panel did dismiss claims that the new district violated Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution; the 1st Amendment; and the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment.
Those challenging the redistricting plan — six registered voters from Pulaski County, including state Rep. Denise Ennett (D-Little Rock) and Sen. Linda Chesterfield (D-Little Rock) — argued that the new district map included “cracking,” the practice of separating voters of similar interests to break up voting blocs.
This occurred, according to the plaintiffs, when the General Assembly replaced a predominantly Black area of Pulaski County in the 2nd District with a predominantly white area of Cleburne County. Prior to the 2020 redistricting, the entirety of Pulaski County was in the 2nd Congressional District.
The panel of judges said the plaintiffs failed to show that race was the primary motivating factor for the redistricting decision.
“There is no ‘smoking gun’ here: neither the plan’s sponsors nor other members of the General Assembly provided a ‘rationale or explanation’ for the new map ‘other than . . . equaliz[ing] the number of voters” across Arkansas’s four congressional districts,’” Monday’s ruling states.
The three-judge panel included Judge David Stras of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Chief U.S. District Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. and U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. of the Eastern District of Arkansas.
U.S. Rep. French Hill (R-Arkansas) currently represents the 2nd Congressional District. He is running for re-election against Democrat Quintessa Hathaway and Libertarian Michael White.
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