BISMARCK, N.D. — A federal judge has ordered a new joint legislative district in North Dakota for two Native American tribes. The tribes argued that the 2021 redistricting map violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting their voting strength. U.S. District Court Chief Judge Peter Welte made the decision to create a new map after ruling in November that the original map prevented Native American voters from having an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
The judge had given North Dakota Republican Secretary of State Michael Howe and the GOP-controlled Legislature until December 22 to come up with a plan to remedy the violation. However, the deadline passed without a new map as Howe and lawmakers sought a delay and more time to respond. Welte determined that the new map, which only requires changes to three districts, is the least intrusive option that complies with the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution.
The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe brought the lawsuit, alleging that the 2021 redistricting map concentrated members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians into one district and marginalized members of the Spirit Lake Tribe. After the November ruling, Howe announced his plans to appeal, citing a recent ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that private individuals and groups cannot sue under a critical section of the civil rights law.
Despite Howe’s efforts to delay the ruling, Welte and the 8th Circuit denied the requests, prompting the Legislature to ask for an extension to develop a redistricting plan. The tribes, on the other hand, requested that their presented maps be implemented by December 31. Eventually, Welte denied the Legislature’s request for more time and granted the tribes’ request for a new map.
The North Dakota Legislature has restarted its redistricting panel in response to Welte’s ruling. The committee is currently reviewing options for the new map, including the tribes’ proposed plans. In the 2021 redistricting process, the tribes had previously suggested a single legislative district that would encompass both reservations, but their proposal was not accepted.
North Dakota currently has 47 legislative districts, with Republicans holding a significant majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Legislature created subdistricts for the Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain Indian reservations in the state House. Lawmakers involved in the redistricting process argued that the creation of these subdistricts was based on 2020 census numbers and complied with the population requirements of the Voting Rights Act.
In summary, a federal judge has ordered a new joint legislative district for two Native American tribes in North Dakota. The judge ruled that the previous redistricting map violated the Voting Rights Act by diminishing the tribes’ voting strength. The new map will only require changes to three districts and is seen as the least intrusive option that complies with legal requirements. The lawsuit, brought by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe, accuses the 2021 redistricting map of concentrating one tribe into a single district and excluding members of the other tribe. The ruling comes after the North Dakota Legislature failed to remedy the violation within the given timeframe. The Legislature has now restarted its redistricting panel and is reviewing options for the new map. However, Republicans dominate both the House of Representatives and the Senate in North Dakota.