“U.S. judges are narrowing voting protections. Some fear lasting damage”

Carrie Johnson for NPR:

The nation’s premier tool to protect voting rights is in mortal danger, threatened on multiple fronts by the Supreme Court and lower-ranking federal judges, scholars and civil rights advocates say.

The latest blow to the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 came this week in Arkansas, where a federal judge appointed by former President Donald Trump dismissed a case over new statehouse maps. The NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the maps diluted the power of Black voters. But the judge said he found no way for the outside advocates to proceed.

“Only the Attorney General of the United States can bring a case like this one,” wrote Judge Lee Rudofsky.

The ACLU said the decision flouts decades of precedent and vowed to appeal.

“This ruling was so radical that there was no choice but to appeal it,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “Private individuals have brought cases under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to protect their right to vote for generations.”

The Arkansas ruling followed comments made by Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch only seven months ago in an unrelated case over the scope of the Voting Rights Act, where he expressed doubts about private rights to sue.

“They are teeing up statutory and constitutional questions for the Court with the justifiable belief that the Court will welcome the narrow interpretation and the opportunity to further narrow the statute,” said Guy-Uriel Charles, an election law professor at Harvard Law School….

The Arkansas case is the latest in a string of defeats for civil rights advocates, as conservative-leaning judges slowly dismantle key provisions of the law.

“The reality is that we’re in a period right now where things are in flux; there is a new majority on the Supreme Court and defendants are throwing things out there to see what sticks,” said Deuel Ross, senior counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, on a recent Election Law Blog podcast.

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