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North Dakota tribal advocates: Community work matters in redistricting cases

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Mike Moen

(Prairie News Service) North Dakota is one step closer to getting a full sense of how the courts view redistricting challenges in tribal areas. 

Legal representatives say community-level work factored into the most recent outcome. 

Last week, a federal court dismissed a lawsuit filed by two GOP officials, who said North Dakota was wrong to consider race in creating a new subdistrict that encompasses the Fort Berthold reservation. 

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Michael Carter, senior staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, said the court's ruling shows that tribal governments and civic engagement groups did the heavy lifting - in providing crucial information about the best way to draw these political boundaries. 

"They had to put in the resources," said Carter, "and the time to go to Bismarck and testify, and submit the analysis that the Legislature needed to justify the creation of Subdistrict 4A, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act."

He said the decision means that state Rep. Lisa Finley-DeVille - D-Fort Berthold Reservation - the candidate tribes had endorsed, will get to keep representing the district. 

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If there are appeals, Carter said the matter would go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

NARF is also part of a lawsuit alleging the state violated federal law by not creating a majority Native American legislative district for the Spirit Lake and Turtle Mountain reservations.

As they await the other ruling, Carter said federal statute is proving to be a force in protecting tribal interests.

"The Voting Rights Act is still in effect," said Carter, "and is a check on the power of state legislators."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a key section of the Voting Rights Act, and Carter said that section is central to their arguments in the redistricting case still pending. 

He said NARF is hopeful a ruling in that lawsuit will be made soon.