Federal lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ congressional redistricting dismissed
A separate federal challenge filed earlier this week remains ongoing
The Arkansas State Capitol. (Dwain Hebda/Arkansas Advocate)
This story was updated at 10:30 p.m. on May 25, 2023.
A federal three-judge panel has dismissed one of the lawsuits challenging Arkansas’ newly drawn congressional districts, ruling those bringing the lawsuit failed to show that race was the “predominant factor” in forming the new maps.
The federal judges had already dismissed much of the lawsuit brought by six Central Arkansas voters and a pair of state legislators in October, but they allowed challengers additional time to tweak their complaints.
The three outstanding claims included:
- 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.
In the end, the panel — which included Judge David Stras of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Chief U.S. District Judge D. P. Marshall Jr. and U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. of the Eastern District of Arkansas — was unconvinced.
“We provided additional time to allow the plaintiffs to amend their complaint. Having reviewed the amendments, we grant the motion to dismiss,” the Thursday opinion reads. “The allegations do not create a plausible inference that race was the “predominant factor” behind the adoption of Arkansas’s new congressional map.”
Little Rock attorney Richard Mays, who represented the plaintiffs, said late Thursday that he was disappointed but not surprised by the panel’s ruling in light of recent rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court and other appellate courts.
“The rule upon which the decision is based – that gerrymandering for political purposes is acceptable, but gerrymandering to discriminate against races is not acceptable – allows political parties to discriminate against racial groups by simply claiming that they did so solely for political reasons but did not consider race,” Mays said.
He noted that the panel required the plaintiffs to prove that the Arkansas General Assembly’s intent was to racially discriminate against Pulaski County voter removed from the 2nd Congressional District rather than to gain an advantage over Democrats.
“Intent is very difficult to prove in these circumstances, as the political rationale behind redistricting laws are seldom announced in public, and the Republicans who passed the law simply claim that they did not consider race,” he said.
Mays said they are considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The lawsuit is the third legal challenge to Arkansas’ 2021 redistricting process that has been dismissed. A fourth was filed earlier this week.
Second suit challenges racial ‘gerrymandering’ in Arkansas’ congressional redistricting
Thursday’s opinion does not bode well for that lawsuit, which makes similar claims of “cracking” and racial gerrymandering in Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District, according to Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin.
“Today’s unanimous opinion means that a third challenge filed this week—that simply regurgitates the same tired allegations as the complaint dismissed today—is likewise doomed to fail,” Griffin said in a statement.
The Arkansas General Assembly redrew Arkansas’ congressional district boundaries in 2021 following the decennial U.S. Census. The Arkansas Board of Apportionment, which includes the governor, attorney general and secretary of state, also redrew state legislative lines.
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Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson refused to sign the congressional redistricting legislation, expressing concerns about its impact on minority voters. However, he also didn’t veto it, allowing the plan to become law without his signature.
The General Assembly in redrawing Arkansas’ congressional districts in 2020 replaced a predominantly Black area of Pulaski County in the 2nd District with predominantly white Cleburne County. Previously, the entirety of Pulaski County was in the 2nd Congressional District and Cleburne was in the 1st District.
Pulaski County is now divided into three different congressional districts. Those challenging the new maps said the split wasn’t necessary and violated conventional redistricting principles.
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