Walen v. Burgum

Status
Active
Issues

At a Glance

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation and individual Native voters are seeking to defend the North Dakota State House subdistrict that encompasses the Tribe’s Reservation. The district protects tribal citizens’ right to fair representation and was required by the Voting Rights Act.

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About this Case

The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation (MHA Nation) and individual voters, who are citizens of the MHA Nation, intervened as defendants in a federal court case brought by non-Native voters to challenge the 2021 North Dakota State House Map. The map includes a state house subdistrict that follows the political boundaries of the Fort Berthold Reservation, where the MHA Nation is located. The lawsuit alleges that the subdistrict is an illegal racial gerrymander. However, as the MHA Nation and tribal citizens have argued, race was not the predominate motivating factor when the Legislature drew the subdistrict. Additionally, any use of race in drawing the district is justified because the subdistrict was required in order to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

In North Dakota, each legislative district is represented by a single state senator and two representatives in the State House. The state’s constitution permits state house representatives to be elected either at large within the senate district or from two single-member subdistricts that each represent half of the legislative district’s population. The 2021 North Dakota State House map includes two legislative districts that are broken into State House subdistricts: District 4 and District 9. Walen Plaintiffs challenge the creation of both subdistricts as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The MHA Nation and individual tribal citizens are only defending Subdistrict 4A.

Before the North Dakota Legislature drew Subdistrict 4A as a part of the 2021 State House Map, the Fort Berthold Reservation was located in a legislative district that was represented by two state house representatives, elected at large from the district, and one state senator. In previous election cycles, MHA citizens ran for the at large seats. However, the Native candidates never won because Native voters made up a minority of the at large district and non-Native voters in the area vote reliably as a bloc against the Native candidate of choice.

Leaders from the MHA Nation and Native organizers worked hard to ensure MHA citizens would have a voice in North Dakota’s redistricting process. Even though the North Dakota Redistricting Committee refused to hold hearings on tribal lands in the state, representatives of the MHA Nation and tribal citizens travelled to hearings and gave testimony urging the committee to recognize to the Reservation as a community of interest and draw a subdistrict containing the Nation. Subdistrict 4A adheres the political boundaries of the MHA Nation and recognizes the MHA people as a community of interest. It has a majority Native population and will give citizens of the MHA Nation who live on the Fort Berthold Reservation the opportunity to elect a candidate of choice to the North Dakota State House.

Campaign Legal Center (CLC), Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the Law Offices of Bryan Sells represent the Tribal Defendants in this case.

For more information on Native Nations’ legal challenges to North Dakota’s 2021 State Legislative Map, visit the Turtle Mountain and Spirit Lake Nation case page.

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