Justice Department Supports Private Right to Enforce Voting Rights Act in Pennsylvania Lawsuit

Department of Justice

SCRANTON, PA — The Justice Department has filed a statement of interest in a case that could have far-reaching implications for voting rights in America. This legal action, taken in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, reaffirms the federal government’s stance that private citizens have the authority to initiate lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The case in question, Aquino and Lopez v. Hazleton Area School District, challenges the at-large method used by the school district to elect its board members. The plaintiffs argue this method dilutes the Hispanic community’s voting power, preventing them from electing candidates who represent their interests. In contrast, the school district contends that private entities lack the standing to bring such lawsuits under the Voting Rights Act.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, representing the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, emphasized the foundational role of the right to vote in American democracy. Since its enactment in 1965, the Voting Rights Act has served as a bulwark against discrimination, enabling millions to participate in elections without facing unjust barriers. Clarke’s statement highlights the department’s commitment to vigorously defending the act and supporting the efforts of private citizens and organizations in combating voting discrimination.

U.S. Attorney Gerard M. Karam for the Middle District of Pennsylvania echoed this sentiment, stating that the Act empowers citizens to challenge unlawful voting practices perpetrated by their governments. Karam reiterated the dedication of his office to enforcing civil rights statutes, including the Voting Rights Act, and its collaboration with the Civil Rights Division to protect private individuals’ enforcement rights.

The Justice Department’s statement of interest argues that not only does the Voting Rights Act allow private parties to enforce its provisions directly, but they can also do so through other civil rights laws that plaintiffs commonly use. This stance is part of a broader effort by the department, which has filed 18 statements of interest and amicus briefs since January 2021 in support of private entities’ litigation rights under the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.

This case and the Justice Department’s involvement underscore a critical aspect of the fight for voter rights: the role of private citizens in safeguarding the democratic process. By affirming the right of individuals to challenge discriminatory practices, the department reinforces the essential principle that every eligible citizen should have an equal opportunity to influence the electoral outcomes that affect their lives and communities.

With 32 statements of interest filed across the country since January 2021, the Justice Department’s actions demonstrate a robust commitment to protecting voting rights at a time when these foundational freedoms face numerous challenges. The outcome of Aquino and Lopez v. Hazleton Area School District could set a precedent, emphasizing the importance of public engagement and legal advocacy in maintaining the integrity and fairness of American democracy.

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