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United States

US Supreme Court sends Arkansas redistricting case back to judges after South Carolina ruling

The Supreme Court on Monday sent a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ 2021 U.S. House map back to a three-judge panel, ordering it to review the suit in light of the high court’s decision against similar claims of bias in a redistricting case from South Carolina.

The ruling is a setback for the lawsuit challenging the way Arkansas’ majority-Republican Legislature redrew the lines for a Little Rock-area congressional district. A three-judge panel last year dismissed the suit, which claimed the redrawn map violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by moving thousands of predominantly Black voters out of the 2nd District in central Arkansas.

Residents of the district who sued over the map had appealed the panel’s decision to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court’s Arkansas decision comes after the court last month preserved a Republican-held South Carolina congressional district, rejecting a lower-court ruling that said the district discriminated against Black voters. The South Carolina ruling prompted a dissent from liberal justices that the court was insulating states from claims of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.

“There’s no question that it does present challenges,” said Richard Mays, who represented district residents challenging the Arkansas map. “It’s a question of whether the Legislature acted with racial intent or with the intent to fortify their position politically in Congress. It could be both.”

Tim Griffin, Arkansas’ Republican attorney general, called Monday’s decision a procedural move that will require the lower court to apply the South Carolina decision.

“That decision won’t change the result here; plaintiffs’ claims still fail as a matter of law and will be thrown out yet again,” Griffin said.

The lawsuit claimed the redrawn map violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by moving thousands of predominantly Black voters out of the 2nd District. Those voters were split between the state’s 1st and 4th congressional districts.

None of the state’s four congressional districts are majority Black, and the state has never elected a Black person to Congress. About 15% of Arkansas’ population is Black.

Opponents of the map have argued that the state Legislature diluted the influence of Black voters by splitting up the 2nd District. Republicans hold all four of the state’s U.S. House seats, and Democrats have tried unsuccessfully in recent years to flip the 2nd District.

Another lawsuit challenging the redrawing of the district is pending in lower court and is scheduled to go to trial in March.

Andrew Demillo, The Associated Press


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