Skip to main content

South Dakota heads for the Supreme Court on voting rights

  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

PIERRE, S.D. -- The state of South Dakota is appealing a ruling by a
three-judge federal panel over a voting rights issue.

The state was ordered to submit a redistricting bill passed by the
Legislature that would allow counties, with permission from the governor
and secretary of state, to redistrict in years not covered by the
constitution. Redistricting is restricted to the second year after an
official census.

The bill, signed by Gov. Mike Rounds, was drawn in response to a lawsuit
filed against Charles Mix County. That county is home to the Yankton Sioux
Tribe and is accused of creating a redistricting plan that dilutes the
American Indian voting population.

No American Indian has ever been elected to a county or city office in
Charles Mix County, even though American Indians make up at least one-third
of the population.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires that any change in the voting
rules that would affect Shannon and Todd counties must be submitted for
preclearance to the U.S. Department of Justice. Shannon County is home to
the Pine Ridge Reservation; the Rosebud Sioux Reservation is located in
Todd County.

The state attorney general's office argues that it is not required to
submit the legislation for preclearance because the new law affects Charles
Mix County, which is not covered by Section 5. House Bill 1265, as is it
known, covers every county in the state, therefore the three-judge panel
ruled pre-clearance is necessary.

The bill was written and passed, plaintiffs in Quiver v. Charles Mix County
claim, in order to avoid the litigation. The bill was given an emergency
category, which would make it law when the governor attached his signature.

Bryan Sells, voting rights attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union,
said the Supreme Court would most likely take the case. It many not go to
oral arguments, but be ruled on in summary judgment.

"The three-judge panel opinion is strongly worded; saying that the state
has intentionally avoided compliance [with Section 5]," Sells said.

The state, he added, is not saying it won't comply. "The opinion said they
are persistent in trying to avoid having to comply. The state is upset over
having to comply with Section 5."

Sells said in most cases such as this, the high court affirms in favor of
the VRA and he doesn't expect anything else in this case. He said he was
sad to see the state of South Dakota spend resources in an effort to
deprive some citizens the protection of the VRA.

The appeal corresponded with the 40th anniversary of the VRA, a move Sells
described as "ironic."