Federal Court Rejects Republican Call To Weaken Voting Rights Act

Alabama Federal Courthouse in Montgomery, AL (Adobe Stock)

A federal court officially rejected Alabama Republicans’ attempt to drastically weaken part of the Voting Rights Act. Thanks to today’s order, a crucial lawsuit fighting for fair representation in the state will continue. Due to prior court rulings, Alabama already has a new congressional map with two Black-opportunity districts for the 2024 elections. 

The order issued Thursday holds that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act — which is a crucial tool in fighting racial discrimination in voting and map drawing — contains a private right of action. This means voters and organizations have the ability to bring challenges to racially discriminatory maps under Section 2. This is exceptionally important as most cases challenging state’s maps under Section 2 are brought by voters themselves. 

This win is particularly important as Republicans have been relentlessly pushing the theory that only the U.S. Department of Justice — not private citizens or nonprofit organizations — can bring claims under Section 2.  Last year, in a catastrophic 2-1 ruling, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Republicans and ended the ability for voters in those states to bring Section 2 challenges. The 8th Circuit includes Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

There remains established precedent for a private right of action under Section 2 of the VRA in the 5th, 6th and 11th circuits, but Republicans are actively trying to do away with that precedent across the country. Even after Alabama was finally ordered to adopt a new, fair map with two Black-opportunity districts, Alabama officials continued to try to undermine Section 2. Today’s decision is a flat rejection of this theory and great news for Alabama voters who have faced a relentless uphill battle in getting a new, fair map. 

The court firmly concluded that Section 2 contains a private right of action and wrote that “It is difficult in the extreme for us to believe that for nearly sixty years, federal courts have consistently misunderstood one of the most important sections of one of the most important civil rights statutes in American history, and that Congress has steadfastly refused to correct our apparent error.” 

With today’s ruling, the case fighting for fair representation in Alabama will continue. With a fair map in place for 2024, this challenge will be crucial in determining if Black Alabamians will continue to be fairly represented in all elections after this year. 

Read the order here. 

Learn more about the case here.

Learn more about Black voters’ long path to a fair map here.