Federal Court Upholds Native American Voting Rights in South Dakota Lawsuit
ACLU Successfully Challenged Unlawful Voter Dilution Plan
ST. LOUIS - A
federal appeals court today affirmed a decision protecting the rights
of Native American voters in Martin, South Dakota. Siding with the
American Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Eight
Circuit ordered local officials to correct violations of the Voting
Rights Act that prevented Native Americans from having an equal
opportunity to participate in the political process and elect
representatives of their choice.
"This is a tremendous victory for
the people of Martin, South Dakota," said Bryan Sells, senior staff
attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project and lead counsel on the
case. "We are deeply gratified that the appeals court affirmed the
rights of Martin's Native Americans, who have endured a long, hard
struggle for equality at the voting booth. This ruling will provide
Indian voters with the right to have an equal say in choosing their
The ACLU brought the lawsuit in
April 2002 on behalf of two Native American voters who say the
redistricting plan adopted by the city that year had the purpose and
effect of diluting Native American voting strength. Native Americans
made up approximately 45 percent of the city's population but would
have been unable to elect any candidates of their choice to the city
council because the redistricting plan ensured that white voters
controlled all three city council wards.
The district court initially ruled
in the city's favor in March 2005. The Native American plaintiffs
appealed, and on May 5, 2006, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Eighth
Circuit reversed the lower court's decision, sending the case back to
the district court.
In December 2006, the district court
not only ordered a "full and complete remedy" for the plaintiffs, but
also affirmed many of the factual claims of voting discrimination that
the voters had described in their original lawsuit, including the fact
that the city's 2002 redistricting plan unlawfully dilutes Native
American voting strength. Today's ruling upholds that decision, as well
as the adoption of voting system proposed by the plaintiffs.
"Today's decision will not only
provide Native Americans an equal voice in the selection of city
officials, but will help bring all communities closer together so that
they can address and solve their common problems," said Laughlin
McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "This ruling also
serves an important reminder that the Voting Rights Act remains a
valuable tool to guard against discrimination in the electoral process."
"This is another step in securing
equal rights for all South Dakotans at the ballot box, but it will not
be the last step," said Patrick Duffy, a cooperating attorney from
Rapid City, South Dakota. "There is more work to be done."
Today's decision is available online at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/