DENVER, CO. A ruling by a Wyoming federal district court requiring a Wyoming County, found to have violated the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA), to adopt an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) redistricting plan instead of the plan developed by elected officials is illegal, a federal appellate court was told today in an opening brief filed by the county. On August 10, the district court rejected Fremont County’s plan. That ruling followed the court’s April 29, 2010, ruling that Fremont County’s method of electing its commissioners pursuant to state law violated the VRA; briefing as to the remedy; and arguments in Cheyenne on July 27. The ACLU demanded creation of a district to ensure election of an American Indian commissioner. The court’s 102-page ruling followed a February 2007 trial and final briefing in May 2007. Fremont County had argued that American Indians are able to participate equally in the political process and the VRA was not violated.
“Rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court make clear that, so long as the County’s plan remedies the Voting Rights Act violation, that plan must be approved; the court’s failure to do so is in error,” said William Perry Pendley of Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF), which represents the County and its Commissioners. “The County’s plan must be accepted.”
Fremont County elects its commissioners at large in partisan races pursuant to state law. The County’s population consists of 75 percent non-Hispanic Whites and 20 percent American Indians. Until recently, all five commissioners were Republicans in light of the fact that 60 percent of the County’s registered voters are registered as Republicans.
The lawsuit, filed in Wyoming federal district court on October 20, 2005, on behalf of five Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapahoe tribal members, demands that the court create single-member commissioner districts and that at least one district contain an effective voting majority of American Indian voters, thus ensuring the perpetual election of an American Indian to the Fremont County Board of Commissioners.
The lawsuit is one of several filed in the Mountain West against rural, sparsely populated, farming, or ranching counties. In November 1999 the Clinton Administration sued Blaine County, Montana, and in November 2001 the Bush Administration sued Alamosa County, Colorado. In the Montana case, the federal government won a district for American Indian candidates after the Supreme Court declined, in April 2005, to hear the case. In the Colorado case, the federal government’s demand for a Hispanic district failed when the Colorado federal district court ruled that voting in Alamosa County was not racially polarized. The federal government did not appeal.
Mountain States Legal Foundation, founded in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system. Its offices are located in the suburban Denver, Colorado, metropolitan area.