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A federal appeals court on Monday issued a ruling that would drastically weaken the Voting Rights Act, effectively barring private citizens and civil rights groups from filing lawsuits under a central provision of the landmark law.

The ruling, made by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, found that only the federal government could bring a legal challenge under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, a crucial part of the law that prohibits election or voting practices that discriminate against Americans based on race.

The opinion is almost certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court. The court's current conservative majority has issued several key decisions in recent years that have weakened the Voting Rights Act.

The court of appeals found that the text of the Voting Rights Act did not explicitly contain language for "a private right of action," or the right of private citizens to file lawsuits under the law. Therefore, the court found, the right to sue would effectively lie with the government alone.

Should the ruling stand, it would remove perhaps the most important facet of the Voting Rights Act; the majority of challenges to discriminatory laws and racial gerrymanders have come from private citizens and civil rights groups.

A Supreme Court ruling in June finding that Alabama had drawn racially discriminatory maps was brought by a number of civil rights organizations.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.