The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) acknowledges the passing of the Honorable Ralph Gingles, Jr., a veteran judge and voting rights pioneer from Gaston, North Carolina. He died on Tuesday at age 69.
Ralph “Skip” Gingles served as a Chief District Court Judge in Gaston County for the last two decades. While in private practice, Judge Gingles was the lead plaintiff in the landmark North Carolina lawsuit challenging discriminatory aspects of a redistricting plan. The lawsuit, Thornburg v. Gingles, successfully challenged the creation of various new districts for state House and Senate under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as the plans diluted Black voting strength, making it impossible for Black voters to elect candidates of choice. This seminal case, appealed to the Supreme Court with the assistance of former LDF attorneys Eric Schnapper, Lani Guinier and former LDF President and Director-Counsel Julius Chambers, ultimately set historic precedent. It soundly established the framework currently used to litigate Section 2 actions to protect minority voters from electoral schemes that impair their ability to elect their candidates of choice. The case also conclusively rejected the concept that Section 2 cases could only succeed in instances where discriminatory intent is provable.
“For the past three decades, communities of color have been able to seek and achieve redress for violations of their voting rights under Section 2 as a result of Judge Gingles’ willingness to challenge the status quo,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of LDF. “As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act this year, it is fitting that we recognize his contribution to one of the most transformative cases interpreting the Act.”
Judge Gingles continued to serve on the bench for over twenty years, eventually serving as Chief Judge in Gastonia and receiving the respect and admiration of his peers for presiding fairly over a diverse docket of cases. His name will always be associated with Thornburg v. Gingles, a case of such critical importance that it has been cited in nearly 700 Section 2 cases.
“Our democracy is, indeed, indebted to Judge Gingles for his role in helping to create a groundbreaking framework for ensuring fair representation for African Americans and other minorities,” said Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of LDF. “The lawsuit that bears his name established the fundamental principle that every person should have the opportunity to elect the candidate of his or her choice.”
LDF extends its heartfelt condolences to Judge Gingles’s family and loved ones.