The U.S. Department of Justice approved Alaska's 2001 redistricting plan this week, finding it doesn't dilute the overall political clout of Natives.
With the Justice Department's pre-clearance, the plan redrawing Alaska's election district boundaries takes effect while a lawsuit challenging it proceeds.
"Alaska's plans have not been pre-cleared previously. It's an important step," said Philip Volland, attorney for the Alaska Redistricting Board.
The Justice Department ruled Monday that the plan complies with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by preserving the political representation of Alaska Natives. Alaska is one of nine states with a history of voter discrimination, which requires Justice Department approval for changes in electoral practices.
Alaska's 2001 redistricting plan maintains four House districts and two Senate districts with a majority Native population. It also preserves two House districts and one Senate district with at least 35 percent Native population.
But the plan drew objection from The Aleut Corporation, which represents Aleuts in the Alaska Peninsula and the Aleutian, Shumagin and Pribilof Islands.
The corporation appealed to the Justice Department to stop the plan, saying it would dilute Aleut political power.
The 2001 Redistricting plan mixes Aleut commercial fishermen in a new Senate district with Yupik subsistence communities along the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Aleuts and Yupiks are often at odds over fishing issues and have no historical or economic ties to each other, said Roger DuBrock, attorney for The Aleut Corp.
"Under the plan they would be lumped in the same district and outvoted," DuBrock said.
The Aleut Corp. favors returning to a pre-1994 district, which included Natives in the Aleutian chain with Kodiak, which shares similar economies and cultural and historical ties.
The Aleutians East Borough is part of a lawsuit challenging the 2001 redistricting plan in Superior Court.
The lawsuit also includes GOP leaders who argue the plan would pit at least 20 incumbents Republicans against each other. Ken Jacobus, a Republican attorney involved in the lawsuit, said the Justice Department pre-clearance will have little bearing on the legal fight.
"The Justice Department looks at it in a very limited way," Jacobus said. "If they would have rejected the map, it would have been very significant."