In Victory for Indian Voting Rights, Federal Appeals Court Sees Bias in Results of Redrawn Districts

Affiliate: ACLU of Montana
November 2, 2000 12:00 am

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A, MT–A lower court erred in concluding that revised legislative districts did not dilute the voting strength of Montana’s Indians, the American Civil Liberties Union announced today, calling the Oct. 27 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals a “significant victory.”

Laughlin McDonald, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project in Atlanta and the attorney who argued Earl Old Person v. Cooney in the Ninth Circuit, called the decision “a significant victory for Indian voters and Indian voting rights.”

McDonald said that his clients will ask the district court on remand to order that the 2002 elections be held under a new plan that creates additional majority Indian districts.

At issue in the appeal was whether the state’s plan diluted Indian voting strength in the area of the Blackfeet and Flathead Reservations, where the ACLU contended that two additional majority Indian legislative districts (one house and one senate) could have been drawn.

The district court had dismissed the complaint, ruling that whites did not vote as a bloc usually to defeat the candidates preferred by Indian voters and that the current plan afforded Indians a proportional, or fair, number of majority Indian districts.

In reversing, the three-judge panel held that Indian preferred candidates were “usually defeated by the white majority voting as a bloc” and that the district court erred in its proportionality analysis. The appeals court sent the case back for reconsideration by the trial court under the legal standards set out in its opinion.

In addition to Earl Old Person, the ACLU plaintiffs include tribal members from the Blackfeet, Flathead, Rocky Boys, Fort Belknap, and Fort Peck Reservations. The Indian Law Resource Center was also counsel in the case.

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