11-Judge Panel Tosses Sioux Voting Rights Case

     (CN) – Two Oglala Sioux members lost their claim that the voting ward boundaries in Martin, S.D., dilute the Native American vote. An 11-judge panel of the 8th Circuit dismissed the case, finding “insufficient proof … that white voters typically vote as a bloc to defeat Indian-preferred candidates.”

     The ruling overturns an earlier panel decision to reinstate the voter-dilution claims of Pearl Cottier and Rebecca Three Stars, Martin residents and members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe.
     They claimed that a city ordinance establishing boundaries for three voter wards diluted the votes of Indians in each ward.
     The district court dismissed the case after an 11-day bench trial, but an 8th Circuit panel reversed on a 2-1 vote, saying the tribal members failed to prove that their votes were being diluted by white bloc voting.
     On remand, the district court found that the city’s ward boundaries constituted vote dilution and adopted an at-large voting scheme proposed by the tribal members.
     The city appealed, but a divided panel upheld both the vote-dilution ruling and the at-large system.
     The full 8th Circuit reheard the case and reversed, saying the district court was right the first time.
     The results from past elections, “taken as a whole, show almost equal numbers of victories for Indian-preferred candidates and non-Indian-preferred candidates,” Judge Steven Colloton wrote. “They do not compel a finding that a white majority in Martin votes sufficiently as a bloc usually to defeat the Indian-preferred candidate.”
     Judge Lavenski Smith dissented, joined by Judges Diana Murphy, Kermit Bye and Michael Melloy. They disagreed with the majority’s decision to reconsider the first panel ruling, and said the court should have simply vacated and remanded the district court’s order adopting the at-large voting system.

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