(CNN) — A federal appeals court on Monday ruled against a key tool used to enforce the Voting Rights Act – possibly setting up another Supreme Court showdown over one of the nation’s landmark civil rights laws.
In a ruling that springs from an Arkansas redistricting case, the 8th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that private entities cannot bring lawsuits under a provision of the law, known as Section 2.
In a 2-1 decision, the judges said the “text and structure” of the voting rights statute shows that Congress did not give private plaintiffs the authority to sue. The appellate panel affirmed a 2022 ruling by a Trump-appointed federal judge in Arkansas that held only the US Justice Department can bring Section 2 lawsuits.
That ruling runs counter to decades of legal practice, however.
The vast majority of cases brought under the Voting Rights Act – which prohibits election rules that have the intent or effect of discriminating on the basis of race – are brought by private plaintiffs, with the Justice Department facing strained resources and other considerations that limit the number of such cases it files to, at most, a few each year.
The case at hand centers on a challenge originally brought by the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel to Arkansas’ state House map.
An appeal of Monday’s ruling could go to the full 8th Circuit for review, but the matter ultimately could end up before the nation’s high court.
Earlier this year, in a high-profile Alabama redistricting case, the US Supreme Court reaffirmed the use of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in ordering the state to redraw its congressional map to guarantee more political power for Black voters.
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CNN’s Tierney Sneed contributed to this story.