Second lawsuit filed challenging Arkansas’ congressional redistricting as aimed at diluting Black votes

Another suit claims legislation unfairly dilutes Black vote

FILE — U.S. District Court in Little Rock is shown in this file photo.
FILE — U.S. District Court in Little Rock is shown in this file photo.

The 2021 redistricting legislation that split Pulaski County into three congressional districts on Tuesday drew another legal challenge alleging that the plan violates the U.S. Constitution and dilutes the power of Black voters.

The latest lawsuit was filed against Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston, as well as the six members of the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners.

The redistricting legislation drew criticism because it divided Pulaski County among the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Congressional districts. Previously, all of the county was in the 2nd District.

Tuesday's lawsuit states that the legislation shifted more than 41,000 residents from portions of Pulaski County with high concentrations of Black residents out of the 2nd District and replaced that population with roughly 25,000 people from Cleburne County, which is "overwhelmingly white."

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are the Christian Ministerial Alliance, as well as Pulaski County voters Patricia Brewer, Carolyn Briggs, Lynette Brown and Mable Bynam.

Those working on their behalf include attorneys from the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund and international law firm O'Melveny & Myers LLP, as well as Little Rock-based civil rights attorney Arkie Byrd.

Efforts to reach the individual plaintiffs were unsuccessful Tuesday.

In a news release Tuesday, Legal Defense Fund Deputy Director of Litigation Leah Aden called the 2021 redistricting "a backlash against the emerging power of Black voters in Little Rock in Pulaski County."

"In recent years, candidates preferred by Black voters in Pulaski County have made great strides to force competitive elections at the congressional level and even to elect Little Rock's first Black mayor and Pulaski County's first Black sheriff and county clerk," Aden said.

"With these huge strides for fair representation, Arkansas' General Assembly responded by cracking Pulaski County into three different congressional districts, effectively blocking such strides from occurring in that area of the state again," she continued. "Voters in Arkansas must not be silenced for the next decade by a racially gerrymandered congressional map."

The lawsuit alleges that race was "the predominant factor" in dividing Pulaski County into multiple congressional districts.

Chris Powell, a spokesman for the secretary of state's office, said the office had no comment on the lawsuit.

A similar federal complaint was filed in March 2022. In that lawsuit, plaintiffs alleged that the redistricting violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

That lawsuit was partially dismissed by a three-judge panel last October. That panel -- comprised of 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge David Stras, Eastern District of Arkansas Chief U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall and U.S. District Judge James M. Moody Jr. -- ruled that the original plaintiffs had not provided sufficient evidence to substantiate their accusations that state lawmakers acted with a discriminatory purpose.

In an amended complaint in December, the plaintiffs in that case argued that the suit had been sufficiently expanded to show that race was a factor.

Tuesday's lawsuit doesn't mention the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It lays out the claim that the redistricting violates the 14th and 15th amendments of the U.S. Constitution by "intentionally separating Black voters."

The lawsuit states that Arkansas has never elected a Black person to Congress.

The 2021 redistricting plan went into effect without the signature of then-Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said at the time that the new map "does raise concerns."

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