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Attorney for plaintiffs in Arkansas redistricting suit praises U.S. Supreme Court decision in Alabama case

by Dale Ellis | June 8, 2023 at 7:43 p.m.
People gather in the rotunda of the state Capitol for a protest over the recently passed Congressional redistricting bills on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021, in Little Rock. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Metthe)

A U.S. Supreme Court decision Thursday striking down Alabama’s congressional district map is being eyed nationally by several states with similar lawsuits pending, including Arkansas, according to an attorney representing plaintiffs in one case.

In the surprise 5-4 decision Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that Alabama had diluted the power of Black voters when the state’s congressional map was redrawn by drawing only one Black majority district of the seven congressional districts despite Black voters making up a quarter of the state’s population. The decision means that Alabama will have to draw its congressional map to include a second majority-Black district.

A case with similar overtones in Arkansas was recently tossed out by a three-judge panel, which upheld the Arkansas congressional map resulting from a legislative decision to move 22,000 predominantly Black voters out of Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District and replace them with 22,000 predominantly white voters by moving Cleburne County from the 1st Congressional District to the 2nd.

In dismissing the case, the panel ruled that the plaintiffs, represented by Little Rock attorney Richard Mays, had failed to establish racial discrimination as the motive for the decision. The map puts parts of Pulaski County into the 1st and 4th congressional districts after decades in which the entire county has been in the 2nd Congressional District, and defenders of the map have said that the decision was based on the county being both heavily populated and centrally located.

“The Supreme Court approved a decision based upon facts very similar to the ones in our case in which the [Alabama] three-judge-panel pretty much adopted, I thought, our position,” Mays said. “So I think it helps. I don’t think it’s a guarantee that we would prevail but I think it makes it a better argument.”

Mays filed the lawsuit in March 2022 on behalf of six Pulaski County voters, including two state legislators, who accused the state of diluting the Black vote in the 2nd District through a gerrymandering method known as “cracking,” which is used to disperse voters of similar interests among populations with which they hold little in common. The plaintiffs — Jackie Williams Simpson; Wanda King; Charles Bolden; Anika Whitfield; state Rep. Denise Ennett, D-Little Rock; and state Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock — accused the state of violating the U.S. Constitution, the state constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 by diluting Black voting power and influence through the newly drawn map.

The lawsuit named then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Secretary of State John Thurston, and the state of Arkansas as defendants.


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