WASHINGTON, D.C. — Earlier today, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declined to pause a lower court decision requiring North Dakota to implement legislative districts that comply with the Voting Rights Act.
Today’s unsigned order leaves in place a November ruling issued by a Trump-appointed federal judge who found that North Dakota’s legislative districts in the northeastern part of the state unlawfully dilute Native American voting strength in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
The ruling — which requires the Legislature to implement a redrawn majority-Native American district by Dec. 22 — originated from a federal lawsuit brought by the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, Spirit Lake Tribe and individual Native American voters.
In early December, North Dakota’s Republican secretary of state, Michael Howe, appealed the district court’s ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and requested that the ruling be paused pending appeal and through the November 2024 election cycle.
Howe’s argument relied in large part on a recent 8th Circuit ruling in which a three-judge panel held that only the U.S. attorney general — and not private individuals or groups — can bring lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. That ruling stemmed from a redistricting case concerning Arkansas’ legislative districts brought by the NAACP and other private groups.
“[T]he Secretary’s appeal is based on recent precedent from this Court which established there is no private right of action to enforce Section 2 of the VRA in this Circuit,” Howe’s filing in the 8th Circuit stated.
Although the plaintiffs in the Arkansas case have since asked the entire 8th Circuit to reconsider the three-judge panel’s decision, the ruling currently applies to states that fall within the 8th Circuit — Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
With today’s denial of Howe’s request, the order requiring North Dakota’s Legislature to redraw its legislative districts by Dec. 22 remains in effect as the state’s appeal proceeds in the 8th Circuit.
One of the attorneys for the tribal groups referred to the 8th Circuit’s “swift denial” today as “good news” for the Voting Rights Act and the tribal groups who brought the lawsuit.
However, North Dakota’s Republican House majority leader expressed that the Legislature would not be able to meet the court’s Dec. 22 deadline, meaning that the map redraw could end up back in the hands of the district court judge who originally struck down the districts. North Dakota’s legislative redistricting committee’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 20.