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Legislative Council approved to hire outside legal counsel in lawsuits over redistricting

North Dakota’s Legislative Management Committee has authorized the Legislative Council to hire outside legal counsel to try and quash subpoenas issued to legislators and council staff for work product used to create Legislative subdistricts.

The subdistricts are in the Turtle Mountain and Fort Berthold Reservations.

The subpoenas were issued in one of the two lawsuits. In that suit, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the Spirit Lake Nation are arguing for their own Legislative district – and argue that the subdistricts dilute the voting strength of the Native American population, which would be against the federal Voting Rights Act.

The case is in the federal district court, with Secretary of State Al Jaeger and Governor Burgum as the defendants – and they’re represented by the state Attorney General’s office.

Legislative Council executive director John Bjornson told Legislative Management the subpoenas are for documents that likely fall under the category of “Legislative Privilege” – such as e-mails and other communications between lawmakers. He said under state law, those kinds of documents are protected.

"The primary issue would be to assert the 'Legislative Privilege,' and ask that the subpoenas be quashed," Bjornson said. "That would be the first thing."

The second case would just eliminate the subdistricts all together. Bjornson said he isn't aware of any discovery efforts in that case.

Bjornson said he's been in contact with lawyers who could handle the case.

It's likely the cases will not come to trail until sometime in 2023.

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