Following a four-day trial, a US federal judge ruled on Friday that North Dakota’s 2021 legislative redistricting plan violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) because it dilutes the voting power of Native American voters. The case is in the US District Court for the District of North Dakota.
Chief Judge Peter D. Welte authored the opinion of the court. Welte found that North Dakota’s legislative map violates Section 2 of the VRA because it prevents Native American voters from having an “equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.” Thus, Welte permanently enjoined the North Dakota Secretary of State from administering, enforcing, preparing for, or permitting the nomination or election of members in the disputed districts. Welte set a date of December 22 for the Secretary of State to adopt a plan to remedy the unlawful map.
Several Native American Tribes sued after the North Dakota Legislature created a new voting map in 2021. The map in dispute split district nine into two separate voting districts called districts 9A and 9B. The tribes assert that this split created an unlawful “supermajority” of Native American voters in district 9A. Additionally, the tribes argue that this supermajority results in the dilution of Native American voting power in other districts.
Section 2 of the VRA states:
[n]o voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color ….
The VRA further states that a violation of this provision is established if it is shown that the political processes leading to nomination or election in the state or political subdivision are not equally open to participation by members of a protected class of citizens.
This is not the only litigation involving the VRA. Earlier this month, the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit set a January 15 deadline for the Louisiana state legislature to draw a new congressional map after a racial gerrymander claim under the VRA. Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ordered Georgia’s General Assembly to redraw the state’s enacted Congressional Districts after finding the districts violated the VRA.