On June 10, 2019, LDF filed a lawsuit under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, challenging the method of electing judges to the Arkansas Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, the two highest courts in the state. The election processes for those courts have for decades denied Black voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of individual Black voters and two non-profit organizations, Christian Ministerial Alliance and Arkansas Community Institute, which are both dedicated to furthering racial justice in the state of Arkansas and empowering voters.
Black residents comprise nearly 16 percent of Arkansas’ population, are geographically concentrated within the state, and consistently vote together in contested elections. But the methods for electing judges to the state’s two highest courts deprive Black voters from a fair opportunity to elect their candidates of choice. In fact, a Black candidate has never been elected to the Supreme Court nor to any statewide, at-large office in recent history.
The Arkansas Supreme Court is comprised of seven justices who are all elected at-large. Supreme Court candidates preferred by Arkansas’ Black voting population are consistently defeated by candidates preferred by white Arkansans. This has resulted in no Black candidate ever having been elected to the Arkansas Supreme Court. LDF proposes that the State create single-member districts, with a majority-Black district in the southeast area of the state, or employ cumulative voting. Because the Black voting population is geographically compact, and politically cohesive, district-based or cumulative voting would allow Black voters to elect their preferred candidates to the Supreme Court. Plans proposed by LDF would create a majority-Black district for the Supreme Court in a seven-district map.
The Arkansas Court of Appeals is comprised of 12 judges who are elected from a mix of single-member and multi-member districts. Black voters comprise the majority in just one district, District 7. This method of elections still dilutes Black voting strength since the districts needlessly “pack or crack” the Black population. Because of this, no Black candidate has ever succeeded in an election to the Court of Appeals when facing a white opponent. Plans proposed by LDF would create a second majority-Black district where Black voters have the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
LDF has a longstanding history of working to protect the rights of Black voters in Arkansas. This includes in the 1990s, when LDF successfully challenged (under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act) the method of election for Arkansas trial court judges in Hunt v. Arkansas. That case resulted in the creation of majority Black sub-districts for the election of state trial court judges and eight Black trial level judges were elected soon thereafter.