A federal appeals panel on Monday affirmed a lower court’s ruling and dismissed a case challenging Arkansas’ state redistricting map, asserting that only the United States attorney general can enforce the Voting Rights Act.
A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that private individuals can’t sue under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits abridging the right to vote on the basis of race.
The appellate panel dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs cannot file the same claim again.
Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Arkansas State Conference NAACP and the Arkansas Public Policy Panel filed a lawsuit against the Arkansas Board of Apportionment, challenging Arkansas’ 2021 redrawing of the state House of Representatives map. The complaint alleged the new map diluted the Black vote.
NAACP v Arkansas Board of Apportionment 8th Circuit Decision
Attorney General Tim Griffin — a member of the redistricting board, along with the governor and secretary of state — praised the decision in a statement as “a victory for our citizens and for the rule of law.”
“Today, the Eighth Circuit became the first federal court of appeals to make clear that Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is not privately enforceable. Only the United States may bring such a claim…for far too long, courts across the country have allowed political activists to file meritless lawsuits seeking to seize control of how states conduct elections and redistricting,” Griffin said. “This decision confirms that enforcement of the Voting Rights Act should be handled by politically accountable officials and not by outside special interest groups.”
Barry Jefferson, political action chair of the Arkansas State Conference of the NAACP, in a statement called the decision “a devastating blow to the civil rights of every American, and the integrity of our nation’s electoral system.”
“By stripping individuals of the ability to sue under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, the court has gutted one of the most critical protections against voting discrimination,” Jefferson said. “The Arkansas State Conference NAACP condemns this ruling in the strongest terms and will explore all available options to ensure that the rights of all voters are fully protected.”
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The plaintiffs are exploring options “to ensure fair maps that give Black Arkansans the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice will be used in the 2024 elections and beyond,” according to a statement from the ACLU.
Writing for the majority, Judge David Stras said enforcement power of Section 2 of the VRA “belonged to the Attorney General of the United States, who was given five days to join the lawsuit. When he declined, the case was dismissed.”
Plaintiffs hope SCOTUS decision in Alabama case bodes well for Arkansas redistricting lawsuits
Chief Judge Lavenski Smith, an Arkansas native and the 8th circuit’s first Black chief justice, dissented. While the Court has never “directly addressed the existence of a private right of action under Section 2,” Smith wrote, “it has considered such cases, held that private rights of action exist under other sections of the VRA and concluded in other cases that a private right of action exists under Section 2.
“Until the Court rules or Congress amends the statute, I would follow existing precedent that permits citizens to seek a judicial remedy,” Smith wrote. “Rights so foundational to self-government and citizenship should not depend solely on the discretion or availability of the government’s agents for protection. Resolution of whether Sec. 2 affords plaintiffs the ability to challenge state action is best left to the Supreme Court in the first instance.”
The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld a lower court ruling that Alabama’s 2022 congressional maps violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Following the ruling, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, noting that the high court’s decision affirmed private citizens’ right to enforce federal laws through the courts.
The U.S. Department of Justice submitted a similar letter in the case.
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Jenna Lawrence has 10 pts, Arkansas women’s basketball routs Louisiana Tech
Arkansas women’s basketball (8-2) reached the century mark in the team’s win vs. Louisiana Tech (2-7), 100-60, Thursday night. Five Hogs reached double figures in scoring, while 11 players saw over five minutes on the court. The team shot 55 percent from the field (36-for-65) and 54 percent (14-for-28) from beyond the arc in the victory. Taliah Scott led the Hogs with 29 points, while Samara Spencer followed with a near triple-double behind 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
The Hogs got the game started with a 10-0 run, as Saylor Poffenbarger helped the Hogs get going with a 3-pointer. With 2:04 off the clock and Arkansas up 10-0, LA Tech took a timeout, as the Hogs went 4-for-5 from the field to start the game, while holding LA Tech to 0-for-3 from the field. LA Tech got its first score of the game off a 3-pointer, but that’s the most LA Tech could get for a while, as the Lady Techsters committed four turnovers in less than three minutes. Arkansas hit a two-minute scoring drought until Spencer splashed in a 3-pointer and Carly Keats followed with another, the Hogs’ fifth of the game. Beating the buzzer, Spencer logged a 3-pointer to end the first quarter, as the Hogs were on top, 27-12. Arkansas shot 59 percent from the field in the first, 6-of-10 from 3-point.
Both sides exchanged some turnovers to begin the game, but Maryam Dauda earned the Hogs first basket of the second quarter with 7:14 left in the frame. The Hogs then started to heat up from beyond the arc, as Makayla Daniels and Spencer made back-to-back 3-pointers. After a steal, Scott found Spencer under the basket for a layup to extend Arkansas’ lead to 22 and make it an 8-0 run. At the media timeout taken with 4:21 left in the quarter, the Hogs led, 40-18. Arkansas outscored the Lady Techsters 11-6 in the final four minutes and some change of the second quarter, with Scott logging nine of those points. With a season-high 51 points in a half, the Hogs led 51-24 at the half, as Arkansas finished the first half shooting 61 percent from the field, 20-for-33 from the field.
Arkansas got off to a slow start out of the half, shooting 2-of-6 from the field and being outscored 13-7 by LA Tech in the first five minutes of the third quarter. The Hogs were aggressive in the paint, getting to the line eight times during that stretch, but only making three of those eight attempts. At the media timeout at 4:37 left in the quarter, the Hogs were ahead, 58-37. The Hogs were held without a field goal for three minutes until Maryam Dauda made a nice move to the basket for a layup, which was a part of Arkansas’ 11-0 run with just 1:22 taken off the clock. That run continued, as Scott made back-to-back 3-pointers. Poffenbarger had a great spin move, as Arkansas closed out the final 3:17 of the quarter on a 16-0 run. The Hogs finished the third quarter strong, going into the fourth quarter ahead, 77-41.
The Hogs commenced the quarter on a 6-0 run after a Daniels 3-point play and a Jenna Lawrence triple, her first as a Hog. After LA Tech scored on the other end, Scott drained her fifth 3-pointer of the game to mark a career-high from beyond the arc. A Keats 3-pointer elevated the Hogs ahead by 44, Arkansas’ largest lead of the night, as LA Tech took a timeout with 6:35 left in the game. Lawrence knocked down two free throws and then got the Hogs’ their 100th point with a layup. She logged her first double-digit scoring contest with 10 points (3-of-4 field goals and 3-of-4 from the line) with 12 minutes played.
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Arkansas volleyball upsets Kentucky, advances to Elite 8 for 1st time
For the first time in program history, the Arkansas volleyball team is Elite Eight bound.
The third-seeded Razorbacks upset second-seeded Kentucky, the SEC champions who defeated Arkansas twice in the regular season, in a five-set thriller on Thursday in Lincoln, Neb. Arkansas won 22-25, 25-22, 25-15, 22-25 and 15-10.
It snapped a 19-match losing streak to the Wildcats, dating to 2012.
Arkansas is scheduled to face host Nebraska, the NCAA Tournament’s top overall seed, in the regional final Saturday at 5 p.m. on ESPNU.
Kentucky won the opening set despite a late surge by the Razorbacks. The Wildcats held set point for 6 consecutive serves — the Razorbacks went on a 5-0 run — but got a kill from Reagan Rutherford to take the set 25-22.
Arkansas took an 11-10 lead in the second set, but a 5-1 run by Kentucky gave put the Wildcats in control. The Razorbacks scrapped back in the set, which was tied 13 times, and took a 22-20 lead. Kentucky tied things with a 2-0 run, but the Razorbacks won the set 25-22 with kills by Taylor Head and Sania Petties, and a set-point service ace from Courtney Jackson.
Through the opening two sets, Arkansas outside hitter Jill Gillen had 11 kills on 22 swings with no attacking errors.
The Razorbacks opened strong in Set 3 and took a commanding 16-10 lead and forced a timeout by Kentucky after a Gillen kill. Arkansas kept rolling and hit .407 to claim a 2-1 lead in the match with a 25-15 set victory.
Things were tight early in the fourth set, as the teams traded six ties. A block from Rutherford capped a 3-1 spurt for the Wildcats and gave them 17-13 lead. Arkansas clawed back within 20-19 with a block from Maggie Cartwright and again within 1 point when a kill from Head made it 21-20.
Kentucky scored consecutive points to grab a 23-20 lead and forced a timeout after an ace from Molly Tuozzo. The Wildcats closed trading points with the Razorbacks to win 25-22 and forced Set 5.
Head and Gillen opened the final set with kills to give Arkansas a 2-0 lead. Two blocks in a row from Zoi Evans and Gillen followed by a Kentucky attack error put the Razorbacks ahead 5-1 and forced a timeout.
Rutherford responded with a cross-court kill to draw the Wildcats within three out of the break. A challenge from Kentucky reversed an out call and drew the Wildcats within 6-3, and an Eleanor Beavin ace shrunk Arkansas’ lead to two.
Head came up with a block on a long rally to give the Razorbacks an 8-4 lead as the teams traded sides of the court. A kill, Arkansas attack error and block drew Kentucky back within 8-7 and caused a timeout.
Arkansas extended its lead to 11-7 with a 3-0 run of its own, which included a kill from Head and two consecutive attack errors from Kentucky, which had a season-high 31 errors.
The Razorbacks got an ace from Jada Lawson during the deciding stretch, which ended with a Gillen kill, to claim a 15-10 victory.
Gillen led Arkansas with 20 kills and hit .391. Cartwright (15 kills) and Head (13) contributed to a 59-kill match by the Razorbacks. Hannah Hogue had 43 assists.
It was the second time Arkansas had advanced to the Sweet 16. The Razorbacks in 1998 were swept by Hawaii in the regional semifinals round.
Arkansas LEARNS: where are we now?
It’s been less than a year since lawmakers passed the education overhaul known as Arkansas LEARNS.
To recap, the act gives parents money in the form of vouchers to enroll their children in private, religious or homeschool. And note: supporters call the voucher program “Education Freedom Accounts.”
Most kids in the program are getting over $6,000 from the state per year. As of now, 94 schools and just under 5 thousand students are using the money.
Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva is proud of the law so far. For the most part, he and the other proponents of LEARNS have gotten exactly what they wanted.
“I am excited to report that because of the commitment of this legislation and the administration and the hard work of all the individuals, that in this most recent ranking Arkansas received an A grade and was ranked number one and two in the nation in parental empowerment,” Oliva said, testifying before the Arkansas Legislative Council in October.
He is referencing a study done by ALEC, a conservative organization that helps draft school choice policies. The group ranks Arkansas second only to Florida, Oliva’s home state, in so-called “parental empowerment.”
That’s a term used frequently by proponents of school choice. Advocates say vouchers open up different forms of education to everyone, especially kids from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
But, the Arkansas Department of Education has been pretty open about the places where the voucher money is going. Most of the money, 95%, goes to either kindergarteners or kids already enrolled in private schools, something Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged at a recent event.
“Most families choose and will continue to choose their neighborhood public school,” she said. “And as someone who graduated from their neighborhood public school, I know how important that sense of community that it can provide. But that one-size-fits-all model that Arkansas used to have let far too many students slip through the cracks.”
The governor has been adamant that the money given out by Arkansas LEARNS would be phased in over time. The state lists seven criteria that put kids at the front of the line for the voucher program, such as being homeless, attending a failing school, or having a special needs diagnosis. Low family income is not one of the seven criteria.
Over 2,000 participants have some kind of special needs diagnosis. However, as originally reported by the Arkansas Times, these diagnoses don’t live up to the standards of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Allison Sweatman is a social worker who helps special needs kids in public schools access services. She says, in a traditional public school, qualifying to get special services takes time.
“It includes one or more examinations one or more tests,” she said. “And then the test has to qualify that child under the diagnosis.”
The Arkansas Times obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act showing kids were qualifying for diagnosis using only a doctor’s report. Sweatman says that’s unusual.
“Something that I have told many many parents is that a doctor’s note is not enough to qualify your child for services.”
Sweatman says schools typically won’t accommodate students under the Americans With Disabilities Act with such thin qualifications. So, she finds it strange that students can get voucher money with only a doctor’s note.
Many schools receiving state money are small, faith-based and located in former warehouses or churches. For example, a school called Cornerstone Montessori Christian in Benton has only five students, four of whom are getting voucher money.
Another small religious school called Joshua Academy in Van Buren started enrolling kids this year. At the school, 68% of the kids are getting voucher money. The school is housed on the property of a nondenominational church.
Another school, Cornerstone Christian Academy in the small town of Tillar, receives hundreds of thousands from the state. The school’s handbook says students will be barred from attendance if they “profess any sort of sexually immoral lifestyle including, homosexuality, transgenderism.”
North River Christian Academy in North Little Rock also has language in its handbook talking about the so-called traditional sexual ethic. At that school, 30 kids out of 55 get state money.
Along with LEARNS money, families can also apply for the ACE scholarship. This is a private scholarship for kids of a lower socio-economic status. Gov. Sanders touted ACE at a luncheon earlier this year.
“You were empowering parents long before government was,” she said. “And you continue to play a critical role in helping low-income families break out of the cycle of poverty.”
Per a law passed by the legislature in 2021, people who give money to this scholarship get 100% back on their taxes from the state. Carl Davis is a tax researcher for the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy whose work involves taxes and school choice. He says these refunds exist in many states.
“People making the so-called donation aren’t losing any money at all,” he said. “So, it’s not usually the way charitable giving incentives work in the tax policy. It is very much a movement of public money into private schools with these so-called donors just acting as middlemen but not putting any of their own money forward.”
Many of the schools receiving state money do not post their tuition rates online. The website of Central Arkansas Christian Schools, one of the largest religious schools in the region, instructs prospective parents to use the ACE scholarship and LEARNS voucher money to calculate what the tuition will be for them.
All of this means the state is seeing a huge shift toward policies emphasizing school choice.
Arkansas LEARNS is slated to roll out over the next three years, with any student eventually being able to apply for voucher money, and schools that have been around for more than a year becoming eligible.
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