Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Judge Rules in Favor of Oglala Voting Rights Plaintiffs

A judge has refused to allow defendants in the recently dismissed Brooks v. Gant voting-rights lawsuit to go after the Oglala plaintiffs for court costs. Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier dismissed the suit after the defendants agreed to provide what the plaintiffs requested — a full-time early-voting polling place for the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The defendants, who are state and county election officials, promised to do so through 2018, which meant the case was no longer “ripe,” with imminent harm.

Sara Frankenstein, attorney for the county officials, then asked the court to bill the 25 plaintiffs for more than $6,000 in court costs — an idea that Judge Schreier called “unjust.” In a tautly worded September 19 opinion, the judge said it took a lawsuit to get the defendants to cooperate and “provide the relief sought by the plaintiffs.” Had the officials done so from the start, wrote the judge, “they could have avoided the costs they are now seeking.”

Clarice Mesteth, an Oglala single mother, said she and other plaintiffs were “relieved.” She added, “We couldn’t believe they wanted us to pay because we asked for the same access to voting that the rest of South Dakota gets.”

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