Law | Politics

Indian voters in Wyoming win decision from appeals court

Members of two tribes in Wyoming won another round in their voting rights lawsuit on Wednesday.

Members of the Eastern Shoshone Tribe and the Northern Arapaho Tribe said Fremont County's at-large system diluted the rights of Indian voters. Judge Alan B. Johnson agreed and ordered the county to develop a system in which at least one district was majority Indian.

Instead of following the judge's decision, the county took the case to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Meanwhile, the Wyoming Legislature passed a bill that allows "hybrid" voting systems in an attempt to affect the outcome of the case.

The 10th Circuit, however, said hybrid systems weren't authorized under state law at the time of Johnson's decision. The court said the judge was correct to reject the county's proposal to create four at-large seats and one Indian-majority district.

"When a political subdivision of a state substantively contravenes the laws of that state -- at least insofar as that contravention is not sanctioned by higher federal law -- it no longer acts as an agent of that sovereign, and therefore is due no federal-court deference," the 10th Circuit concluded.

The court said it's possible for the county could develop a hybrid system since the state's new law is in effect for the 2012 elections.

The county is being represented by the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a group that has lost a number of Indian voting rights cases. The group has fought protections for sacred sites, opposed subsistence rights for Alaska Natives and has represented clients who opposed tribal sovereignty.

Get the Story:
Court denies Wyoming county's voting rights appeal (AP 2/22)

10th Circuit Decision:
Large v. Fremont County (February 22, 2012)

Lawsuit Documents:
Large v. Fremont County (ACLU)

Related Stories:
Column: Structural racism and Indian voting case in Wyoming (03/23)
10th Circuit hears argument in Wyoming Indian voting rights suit (3/10)
Wyoming bill appears to overturn victory in Indian voting case (2/11)
Legal group behind voting rights case known as 'Indian fighters' (12/1) Editorial: County should stop discrimination against Indian vote (11/16)
Wyoming county proceeds with appeal in Indian voting rights suit (11/5)
Costs for Indian voting rights lawsuit in Wyoming pass $1M mark (9/27)
Wyoming county files notice of appeal in Indian voting rights case (09/07)
WyoFile: Voting rights a case of discrimination on reservation (8/12)
Wyoming county to appeal decision in Indian voting rights lawsuit (8/26)
Wyoming county ordered to draw districts in Indian voting case (8/11)
Judge promises ruling in Indian voting rights lawsuit in Wyoming (7/28)
Wyoming county submits plans in Indian voting rights lawsuit (6/25)
Judge won't allow county to avoid Indian voting rights ruling (6/11)
County delaying election after losing Indian voting lawsuit (6/3)
Editorial: County should follow Indian voting rights decision (6/1)
Plaintiffs in voting rights case seek district for reservation (5/4)
Editorial: Wyoming Indians win major voting rights ruling (5/3)

Join the Conversation