Jackson County, South Dakota, has dug in for a fight against Oglala Sioux plaintiffs who sued for a full-service satellite voting office on the portion of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation that overlaps the county. On May 11, Jackson County filed an answer to the Oglalas’ complaint. The document mostly reiterated legal arguments that had been rebuffed by U.S. District Court Judge Karen Schreier 10 days earlier, when she refused to dismiss the lawsuit, Poor Bear v. The County of Jackson. In her opinion, the judge wrote that the plaintiffs might be able to prove “intentional discrimination,” a Fourteenth Amendment violation. Judge Schreier presided over another Oglala voting-rights suit, Brooks v. Gant, which in 2012 resulted in satellite voting for another part of Pine Ridge.
A prominent voting-rights attorney was skeptical about Jackson County’s chance of prevailing. “In an answer to a complaint, defendants almost always state all the possible defenses they may have, and it looks like the county has done that here,” said Laughlin McDonald, special counsel and director emeritus of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project. “However, in light of Judge Schreier’s opinion and the facts of the case, it doesn’t look as though the defenses have any merit.
OJ Semans, Rosebud Sioux co-head of Four Directions voting-rights group, described his take on Jackson County’s long game. “The county defendants know they’ve lost this round, but they want to be modern-day Indian fighters and appeal this lawsuit all the way to the Supreme Court,” Semans said. “They’d rather spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars fighting equality than one thousand implementing it. They, like Custer, are on the wrong side of history.”