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Ruling: State to pay tribes’ legal fees in voter ID dispute

July 20, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A federal appeals court panel has upheld a ruling that orders North Dakota to pay more than $450,000 in plaintiff’s attorneys fees and costs stemming from tribal lawsuits over state voter identification requirements.

Last year, the state agreed to settle longstanding legal disputes with Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes.

The tribes sued over North Dakota’s requirement that voters have identification with a street address. The tribes said it creates a disadvantage for Native Americans who live on reservations where street addresses are hard to come by. The dispute at one point reached the U.S. Supreme Court.

An 8th U.S. Circuit of Appeals panel on Friday upheld a federal judge’s May 2020 order that the state pay $452,983, the Bismarck Tribune reported.

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U.S. District Judge Dan Hovland had approved an agreement, which sought to ensure Native American voters have valid IDs and can meet the address requirement.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys also sought more than $1 million in attorney fees and expenses. The state argued the claim was unreasonable. Hovland sided with the tribes but reduced the amount by 60%, saying some claimed expenses were excessive.

The state appealed, saying the request had been filed too late. The appellate judges agreed but said the gaffe was “excusable.”

“There is no evidence that the plaintiffs acted in bad faith,” the panel wrote in its decision upholding Hovland’s order.