A federal appeals court ruled on Monday that only the U.S. government has the authority to file lawsuits under a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racially discriminatory voting rules. This decision, if upheld, could significantly limit the use of the Act in challenging voting regulations and redistricting.

The ruling is expected to be appealed and may lead to a major voting rights case in the U.S. Supreme Court. The majority of Voting Rights Act cases have historically been filed by private parties, including a recent case that led to the Supreme Court striking down Alabama’s congressional map.

The decision, made in a 2-1 ruling by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, upheld a 2022 ruling by U.S. District Judge Lee Rudofsky. The court stated that the Act does not explicitly provide a “private right of action.” Circuit Judge David Stras, a Trump appointee, wrote the majority opinion, supported by Circuit Judge Raymond Gruender, a Bush appointee. Chief Judge Lavenski Smith, dissenting, argued for adhering to existing precedent. Sophia Lin Lakin, director of the ACLU’s voting rights project, criticized the ruling, calling it a “travesty for democracy.”

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