North Dakota News

North Dakota redistricting sparks legal controversy, potential supreme court appeal

North Dakota – A federal judicial panel in North Dakota has ruled against a lawsuit initiated by Republican district officials. The suit claimed the inclusion of racial considerations in the formation of state House subdistricts was unconstitutional, specifically those surrounding tribal territories.

GOP legislative district representatives launched this challenge last year

The legal challenge, launched early the previous year by GOP legislative district representatives, contested the Legislature’s 2021 decision to divide districts, particularly the ones containing subdistricts for the Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain Indian reservations. The officials argued that this move represented “racial gerrymandering” and infringed upon the equal protection clause.

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The decision, delivered on Thursday by a trio of judges—U.S. District Court Chief Judge Peter Welte, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Erickson, and U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland—concluded the lawsuit with a dismissal. The panel ruled in favor of the state and the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, affirming that the subdivision was “required by” the federal Voting Rights Act, thereby reflecting the state’s justified action based on “good reasons and strong evidence.”

Following this outcome, the plaintiffs, under the counsel of attorney Bob Harms, are contemplating their future course of action, which might include an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

This lawsuit surfaces amidst a broader context of redistricting debates in North Dakota. In 2021, state legislators, led by Republicans, redrew the state’s 47 legislative districts in response to new census data, justifying their approach by referencing the Voting Rights Act’s mandates.

Simultaneously, another redistricting challenge is on the horizon. The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe have presented their case, pending a decision from Judge Welte after a June trial. These tribes argue that the current redistricting map unlawfully weakens Native American voter influence within their reservations, a violation they assert goes against the Voting Rights Act. Their goal is to establish a joint district for the reservations.

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