Written by Al Stover
The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, representing seven American Indian voters in a lawsuit against Wolf Point School District Board, has responded to a defense motion to dismiss the case.
The ACLU filed a complaint against the school district, back in August, on behalf of the American Indian voters.
The ACLU claims the voters are being denied the equal right to representation on the high school board because of discriminatory voting districts. Wolf Point High School District 45A unites districts 3 and 45.
District 3 has a 2010 Census population of 430, according to the lawsuit, and is comprised of a majority white residents. Voters elect three members to the school board. This is one member for every 143 residents.
District 45, which has majority Native American population, had a 2010 Census population of 4,205, according to the lawsuit. The voters elect five board members for every 841 residents.
According to court documents, none of the members of the board of trustees are enrolled members of an American Indian tribe.
Court documents also stated, the voters claim that continuing the practices would violate rights guaranteed to the voters by the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as violate the amendment of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The ACLU is asking a federal judge to force the school board of trustees to draw new districts.
The ACLU has also requested United States District Court establish a preclearance for the Wolf Point School District to prevent such racial discrimination in the future.
The plaintiffs being represented in the case by the ACLU are Ronald Jackson, Ruth Jackson, Robert Manning, Patricia McGeshick, Lawrence Wetsit, Lanette Clark and Bill Whitehead.
The defendants in the case are Martin DeWitt, Tracey Juve-Miranda, Glenn Strader, Janice Wemmer-Kegley, Jaronn Boysun, Brent Nygard and Ed Bach. They are being sued in their official capacities as members the Wolf Point Board of Trustees of District No. 45-45A. Naomi Erickson, in her official capacity as School District Clerk and Election Administrator, is also a defendant in the case.
The defense, filed a motion, Oct. 4, to dismiss the complaint.
The reasons for dismissal include School District 45A and its Board of Trustees not falling under the definition of a political subdivision, the defendants have no authority to redraw the districts as the system was not created by them and the defendants lacked the requisite intent to violate the Fourteenth Amendment.
In their response to the motion, the ACLU stated the defendants cite no authority to support their claim that the School District is not a political subdivision. They also said the defendants are appropriate parties to this litigation and that discriminatory intent is not required to prove a violation of One Person, One Vote.
According to attorney John Ellingson, the ACLU has responded and a preliminary pretrial conference will be conducted in the judge’s chambers at the federal courthouse in Great Falls, Nov. 8.
Tony Koeing of the Montana School Boards Association stated the conference will be set for the case and attorneys for both parties will be given an opportunity for oral argument on the school’s motion to dismiss.
Ellingson and James Taylor of the ACLU of Montana in Missoula represent the plaintiffs.
Debra Silk, Tony Koeing and Kris Goss, of the Montana School Boards Association, in Helena represent the defendants.