Friday, April 09, 2004

9th Circuit Upholds Statistical Testimony in Voting Rights Case

The Ninth Circuit has upheld a district court ruling that the at-large voting system for county commissioners in Blaine County, Montana, violates section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting the vote of American Indians. In the course of doing so, the appellate panel rejected the county's procedural and substantive quarrels with the trial court's gatekeeping performance. See United States v. Blaine County, No. 02-35691 (9th Cir. Apr. 7, 2004) (Wardlaw, Gould, & Paez, JJ.).

Procedurally, the county complained that the district court failed to rule on its objections to testimony from three of the United States' expert witnesses. In rejecting that argument, the panel observed that the trial court did appraise the reliability of testimony from one of the experts. Its failure to do the same for the other two was harmless error, the panel held, because the district court's findings of fact and conclusions of law did not cite or depend on their testimony in any essential way.

Substantively, the county challenged one expert's reliance on race-identified registration lists. But the county's own expert testified that race-identified registration lists are commonly used and acceptable tools for examining racial voting patterns, and the challenged expert's statistical analysis yielded results similar to those found by the county's own expert.
Fed. R. Evid. 702: If scientific, technical, or other specialized knowledge will assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to determine a fact in issue, a witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training, or education, may testify thereto in the form of an opinion or otherwise, if (1) the testimony is based upon sufficient facts or data, (2) the testimony is the product of reliable principles and methods, and (3) the witness has applied the principles and methods reliably to the facts of the case.