8th Circuit reverses victory in Indian voting rights lawsuit
An en banc panel of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a victory in an Indian voting rights lawsuit from South Dakota.

Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe said the system of districts in the city of Martin diluted the Indian vote. A federal judge initially sided with the city.

The 8th Circuit, in May 2006, revived the case. The judge later determined that the system prevented Indian voters from electing candidates of the their choice.

A second appeal followed. In December 2008, the 8th Circuit affirmed the judge's decision by a 2-1 vote.

In response, the city moved to an at-large system. At least three Indian candidate filed for office last year.

But the 8th Circuit agreed to rehear the case and notified the parties that it would consider issues that had been decided in May 2006. As a result, the en banc panel reversed the earlier victory and said the lawsuit should have been dismissed by the lower court judge.

"A federal court order directing a city to redraw its election ward boundaries, or to alter fundamentally its voting system, raises significant issues of federalism," the 8th Circuit said by a 7-4 vote.

The dissent said the en banc panel should not have reopened the May 2006 decision and said the lower court judge should review the case in light of recent legal developments affecting voting rights.

American Indians and Alaska Natives make up nearly 45 percent of the population in Martin, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The city is next to the Pine Ridge Reservation and the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.

Despite the high percentage of Native Americans, only two Indian-preferred candidates were elected in the two decades prior to the filing of the lawsuit.

The case is Cottier v. City of Martin.

Get the Story:
Court dismisses Native American voting rights lawsuit (AP 5/5)

8th Circuit Opinion:
Cottier v. Martin (May 5, 2010)

Earlier 8th Circuit Decision:
Cottier v. Martin (December 16, 2008)

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Indian candidates seek office in South Dakota city (6/2)
8th Circuit backs Indian voters in South Dakota case (12/17)
Indian voters win lawsuit against South Dakota city (12/8)
Appeals court revives Native voting rights lawsuit (5/8)