Split Eighth Circuit Panel Shields Communications between North Dakota Legislators and Constituents that Probably Shows Racial Animus against Native Voters

Here are the materials in In re: North Dakota Legislative Assembly:


Petition for Writ of Mandamus

Turtle Mountain Opposition

The underlying case is here.

Student Note on Native Voting Rights

Noelle N. Wyman has published “Native Voting Power: Enhancing Tribal Sovereignty in Federal Elections” (PDF) in the Yale Law Journal. Here is the abstract:

Members of tribal nations are disproportionately burdened by barriers to voting, from strict voter identification and registration requirements to inadequate language assistance and inaccessible polling locations. Restrictive voting laws are on the rise, while the avenues for challenging them under the prevailing model of voting rights are narrowing. This Note advocates for a different approach to conceptualizing and combatting Native American voter suppression.

First, it advances a new jurisprudential theory centered on tribal sovereignty: suppressing the Native vote not only denies rights to individual citizens but also denies sovereign power to tribes. Historically, states required Native American people to renounce tribal membership, culture, and lands to vote. Today, states and localities continue to denigrate tribal sovereignty in the administration of elections, such as by rejecting tribal-issued IDs and interfering with tribes’ organization of their own political communities. Apart from securing the fundamental rights of individual Native citizens, Congress has a substantive duty to secure tribal sovereignty in federal election administration that is rooted in its trust obligation to tribes.

Second, this Note proposes a new legal framework for enhancing Native voting power: Congress should require states and local election officials to negotiate with federally recognized tribes toward the formation of tribal-state compacts governing federal election administration in Indian Country. This framework would relieve tribes of the burdens that they currently carry to initiate collaboration with local election officials, fill gaps in voter assistance, and challenge unlawful voting restrictions in court. Meanwhile, it would involve tribes in the process of lawmaking and regulation, enabling them to exert a measure of sovereign power over federal elections in Indian Country.

Supreme Court Decides Brnovich v. DNC (voting rights)

On July 1, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court released a decision in Brnovich v. DNC that upheld two Arizona voting policies that make it harder for people—and especially people of color and Native Americans—to vote.

On March 2, the US Supreme Court heard arguments in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee. The case looks at whether two issues of Arizona voting law—restricting out-of-precinct ballots and ballot collection—violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In 2016, Arizona lawmakers passed laws limiting ballot collection and out-of-precinct voting. Ballot collection is an essential tool that rural Native American communities use to make voting accessible to all eligible voters.

At about 17 minutes into the hearings, Justice Sotomayor addresses the voting burdens in Native communities. The points that Justice Sotomayor raises, echo those found in the National Congress of American Indians’ (NCAI) “friends of the court” amicus brief in the case. NCAI’s brief, which was filed by the Native American Rights Fund in January, explains how American Indian and Alaska Native voters face substantial obstacles and documented discrimination as they try to participate in the American democratic process.

Native Americans are entitled to full access to the political process, but failures rooted in devastating policies and discrimination create needless barriers to the ballot.  Services such as post offices and drivers’ license sites require hours of travel, postal delivery and residential addressing is insufficient or completely absent, poorly maintained dirt roads become impassable during November election season, lack of internet and cell phone coverage abound on reservation, and insufficient economic means and transportation make it impossible to access basic government services. There also have been instances of untrustworthy election officials capitalizing on these inequities to disenfranchise voters and undermine Native American political power.  Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act provides much needed protections against this type of systemic voter disenfranchisement.

Read more about the barriers that Native American voters face in the report, Obstacles at Every Turn: Barriers to Political Participation Faced by Native American Voters.