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New Activity in ND Redistricting Lawsuits about Tribal Lands


Thursday, June 23, 2022   

July 1 is the next scheduled hearing date for a pair of lawsuits tied to North Dakota's redistricting process. The legal issue is political boundaries for tribal areas, and whether their federal rights are being honored.

One lawsuit alleges the state violated the Voting Rights Act by not creating a majority Native American legislative district for the Spirit Lake and Turtle Mountain reservations. The other case seeks to protect a newly created subdistrict encompassing the Fort Berthold reservation.

Staff Attorney Michael Carter of the Native American Rights Fund said he feels the law is on their side, noting recent federal activity in the first case.

"The U.S. Department of Justice Department filed a statement of interest in the case," said Carter, "taking our position against the state."

The position is that the Voting Rights Act affords citizens the ability to assert their legal rights in these situations. The state disagrees and has sought to dismiss the case filed by tribal nations.

The competing suit, brought by GOP officials, argues it was unconstitutional for the state to consider race when creating the subdistrict for Fort Berthold.

Lisa DeVille, who resides on the Forth Berthold reservation, has been part of the legal efforts on behalf of tribal members.

She said lawmakers were right to establish the subdistrict in that region and bolster the voting power of Natives, and notes it's an area often overlooked by the state.

"The only time these people come to visit us is when they want our vote," said DeVille. "Not ever seeing what we deal with, what we need, our needs, our wants."

DeVille, who is now running for House District 4A in the State Legislature, said maintaining the subdistrict could pave the way for more candidates who better reflect the interests of tribal voters.

Meanwhile, the GOP plaintiffs in the case have indicated they'll take their arguments to the U.S. Supreme Court. They're appealing the denial of a preliminary injunction they sought ahead of last month's primary election.

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