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Suppressing the Power of Navajo Voters Has Resulted in Policies that Hurt the Community

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (March 25, 2024) – Today, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the UCLA Voting Rights Project (UCLA VRP), the ACLU of New Mexico, the law firm DLA Piper, and the Navajo Nation Department of Justice announced a voting rights victory in the successful resolution of their lawsuit brought on behalf of the Navajo Nation, the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission, and individual Navajo voters in San Juan County, New Mexico.

The lawsuit challenged San Juan County’s 2021 redistricting map for county commission districts, which unlawfully diluted the voting power of Navajo voters. The map packed Navajo citizens into District 1, which had an 83% Native American Voting Age Population (VAP), while reducing the Native American VAP in District 2 below the level necessary to provide Navajo voters with an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, as required by Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act. This meant Navajo voters had an equal ability to elect preferred candidates in just one out of five districts, despite Navajo citizens making up roughly 40% of the county’s total population. The suppression of the voting power of the Navajo residents has made it harder to achieve important policy priorities, such as providing and maintaining critical infrastructure on Navajo Nation land.

The county agreed to settle the lawsuit by enacting a new map negotiated by the plaintiffs which ensures a more equitable distribution of the Navajo population, with 74% Native American VAP in District 1 and 70% in District 2. The new map will remain in place through the 2030 Census, with the two new Navajo opportunity districts first up for election in 2026. The voting rights victory is a testament to the tireless efforts of the Navajo Nation and its allies in standing up against injustice and on behalf of the rights of the Navajo people.

“The Navajo people have endured centuries of discrimination in San Juan County, including through the discriminatory redistricting map dismantled by this historic settlement agreement,” said Ryan Snow, counsel with the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “We celebrate this win together with our clients while remaining mindful of the fact that much work remains to be done to ensure equal access to democracy for the Navajo people. This is an important step we hope will lead to better decisions by the county in serving its Navajo community members for years to come.”

“This settlement reaffirms the principle that every voice deserves to be heard in our democracy,” said Bernadette Reyes, voting rights counsel with UCLA VRP. “By securing the equal opportunity to elect preferred candidates in two out of five seats on the County Commission, the Navajo people will finally have a substantial and long-overdue influence in shaping their county’s governance. This case underscores the vital importance of protecting voting rights and ensuring fair representation for all citizens.”

“Navajo Nation obtained justice for San Juan County’s Navajo voters by exercising its right to sovereignty and self-determination,” said Preston Sanchez, ACLU of New Mexico Senior Indigenous Justice Staff Attorney. “Moving forward, it is imperative that New Mexico county leaders consult with tribal leadership to ensure that Native American voters are adequately represented during reapportionment. Tribes have a right to determine what is best for their own communities. We will continue fighting in collaboration with Tribes to ensure those rights are respected.”

“The settlement we reached with San Juan County, NM, is a victory for the Navajo Nation and the Navajo People,” said Ethel Branch, Attorney General of the Navajo Nation Department of Justice. “In exercising our sovereign right, we secured justice for Navajo voters in San Juan County. For decades, and despite being the majority, our people were only able to elect one Navajo Commissioner in San Juan County. Now we have an opportunity to change that through more equal treatment of Navajo votes in the County redistricting process.”

“We are pleased to have represented Navajo Nation in this matter and to have assisted with this positive outcome,” said Raymond Williams, senior counsel with DLA Piper.



The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to mobilize the nation’s leading lawyers as agents for change in the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the Lawyers’ Committee uses legal advocacy to achieve racial justice, fighting inside and outside the courts to ensure that Black people and other people of color have the voice, opportunity, and power to make the promises of our democracy real.

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The UCLA Voting Rights Project is the marquee advocacy project of the UCLA Latino Policy and Politics Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles and is focused on voting rights litigation, research, policy, and training. The UCLA Voting Rights Project addresses monumental and overlooked gaps in the field of voting rights: how to train young lawyers and researchers, support the development of new legal and methodological theories for voting rights cases, and how to advance policy work to ensure that there is a new generation of leaders who are pursuing efforts to guarantee all citizens have equal and fair access to our democracy. The project was founded by Chad W. Dunn, J.D., and Matt Barreto, Ph.D. The UCLA Voting Rights Project is located within the Luskin School of Public Affairs.

To learn more about the UCLA Voting Rights Project, please visit: