Washington — A federal appeals court ruled Monday that private individuals and groups, such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)do not have the power to sue under a key provision of the federal voting rights law, a decision that contradicts decades-old precedent and could further undermine the protections established in the historic 1965 law.
The decision, with two votes in favor and one against, led a panel of the Federal Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, based in St. Louis, to determine that only the federal Secretary of Justice can exercise Section 2 of the law. of voting rights, which requires that political maps include districts where preferred minority candidates can win electoral contests.
The majority found that other federal laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, make clear when private groups can sue, but noted that similar language was not found in the election law.
“When those details are missing, it is not our place to fill in the blanks, except when ‘text and structure’ requires it.”the federal judge wrote David R. Stras in the majority opinion, in which he was accompanied by the judge Raymond W. Gruender.
Stras was nominated to the bank by former president donald trumpwhile Gruender was nominated by former president George W. Bush.
The decision upheld a lower judge’s ruling to dismiss a case brought by the Arkansas NAACP State Conference and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel after giving the attorney general Merrick B. Garland five days to join the complaint.
In his dissenting opinion, the judge Lavenski R. Smith He noted that federal courts across the country and the federal Supreme Court have taken up several cases brought by private plaintiffs under Section 2. Smith said the court should follow the “existing precedent that allows for a legal solution” unless the Supreme Court or Congress decides otherwise.
“Rights so fundamental to self-government and citizenship should not depend solely on the judgment or capacity of government agents for protection.”wrote Smith, who was also appointed to the position by George W. Bush.