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The U.S. Supreme Court sends the Arkansas redistricting case back to the justices after the South Carolina ruling

The Supreme Court on Monday sent a lawsuit challenging Arkansas’ 2021 U.S. House map back to a three-judge panel, ordering it to review the case in light of the Supreme Court’s decision against similar claims of bias in a redistricting case from South Carolina.

The ruling is a setback for the lawsuit challenging the way the Republican Legislature in Arkansas redrew the boundaries for a congressional district in the Little Rock region. A three-judge panel dismissed the lawsuit last year, which claimed the redrawn map violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by removing thousands of predominantly Black voters from the 2nd District in central Arkansas.

District residents who filed a lawsuit over the map had appealed the panel’s decision to the Supreme Court.

The Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision comes after the court last month upheld a Republican-held congressional district in South Carolina and rejected a lower court ruling that said the district discriminated against black voters. The South Carolina ruling prompted a dissent from liberal justices that the court insulated states from claims of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.

“There’s no question that this poses challenges,” said Richard Mays, who represented the district residents who challenged the Arkansas map. “The issue is whether the legislature acted with racist intent or with the intent to politically strengthen their position in Congress. It’s possible to do both.”

Tim Griffin, Arkansas’ Republican attorney general, called Monday’s decision a procedural step that would require the lower court to apply the South Carolina decision.

“That decision will not change the outcome here; Plaintiffs’ claims continue to fail as a matter of law and will once again be dismissed,” Griffin said.

The lawsuit alleged that the redrawn map violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act by removing thousands of predominantly black voters from the 2nd District. Those voters were split between the state’s first and fourth congressional districts.

None of the state’s four congressional districts are majority black, and the state has never elected a black person to Congress. About 15% of Arkansas’ population is black.

Opponents of the map have argued that the state Legislature diluted the influence of black voters by splitting up the Second District. Republicans hold all four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to flip the second district in recent years.

Another lawsuit challenging the district’s redrawing is pending in a lower court and is expected to go to trial in March.