Judges toss lawsuit targeting North Dakota House subdistricts for tribal nations

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal three-judge panel in North Dakota has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Republican district officials who alleged that the consideration of race was unconstitutional in the creation of state House subdistricts that included ones encompassing tribal nations.

The lawsuit filed early last year by the two GOP legislative district officials targeted the two subdivided districts the Legislature drew in 2021, which included subdistricts for the Fort Berthold and Turtle Mountain Indian reservations. The lawsuit alleged that the “racial gerrymandering” was a violation of the equal protection clause.

The ruling issued Thursday by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Peter Welte, Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Ralph Erickson and U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland granted motions for summary judgment made by the state and the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation, and denied the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, dismissing the case.

The judges said the state “had good reasons and strong evidence to believe the subdistricts were required by” the federal Voting Rights Act.

The plaintiffs will discuss their next steps, including a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, attorney Bob Harms told The Associated Press.

In 2021, North Dakota's Republican-controlled Legislature reapportioned the state's 47 legislative districts based on 2020 census numbers. Lawmakers cited population requirements of the Voting Rights Act when they went about drawing the subdistricts for the two tribal nations.

Another redistricting lawsuit, brought by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians and the Spirit Lake Tribe, awaits a ruling by Welte after a June trial. The tribes allege the redistricting map illegally dilutes Native American voters on two reservations, violating the Voting Rights Act. The plaintiffs are seeking a joint district.