Native American voters and the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation (MHA) alongside the state of North Dakota, successfully defended the creation of House District 4A, a subdistrict that follows the boundaries of MHA’s Fort Berthold Reservation. On November 2, 2023, a panel of judges in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota ruled in favor of the tribal intervenors, granting summary judgment and finding compelling and unrefuted evidence that the new subdistrict is required under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

“This decision ensures that our representation at the state level is not diminished,” said MHA Chairman Mark N. Fox. “The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation joined this lawsuit to support the Native voters who finally gained a voice in the North Dakota legislature because of House District 4A. For the first time in a long time, MHA voters were able to elect a candidate of their choice last year.”

“This decision will positively impact North Dakota and the lives of everyone who lives on the reservation for years. Representation matters and I will continue to work hard to have their voices heard and their issues addressed,” said plaintiff Representative Lisa DeVille of Mandaree, North Dakota, who is an MHA citizen and who was elected as the state House Representative for the new subdistrict 4A in the last election.

Plaintiffs and local Republican party officials Charles Walen and Paul Henderson filed the lawsuit, claiming that the state had engaged in racial gerrymandering, which the court firmly rejected. The decision noted that the state created the subdistrict to prevent Native vote dilution, and that “… without the subdistrict, Native American voters would in fact have a viable Section 2 voter dilution claim under the VRA. Taking that unopposed evidence as true, granting Walen and Henderson the relief they seek as to district 4—eliminating the subdistrict—would be itself a violation of the VRA and federal law.”

“Protecting the new MHA subdistrict was important because we have fought so hard to be able to exercise our right to vote in North Dakota. Native people simply must vigilantly defend every gain we achieve as voters,” said plaintiff Cesareo Alvarez, Jr.

The Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Campaign Legal Center (CLC), and The Law Office of Bryan L. Sells, LLC, represented the individual voters and MHA Nation who intervened in the lawsuit brought against the state by Walen and Henderson in 2022.

“The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation have a right to representation at the state level. This order shows that claiming racial discrimination that results in stripping voting power from Native Americans will not be tolerated. Native voters in this part of North Dakota finally have a voice in the state legislature, which has been a very long time coming,” said NARF Staff Attorney Michael Carter.

“MHA voters in North Dakota deserve to have a say in the issues that impact their lives,” said Mark Gaber, senior director of redistricting at Campaign Legal Center. ”We are heartened by this decision that protects MHA representation, and will continue to work to ensure that North Dakota’s Native voters can make their voices heard in our democracy.”

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