Delegates' reaction ranges from acceptance to defiance

By Noel Lyn Smith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, June 3, 2010

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The Navajo Nation Council met June 2 in a work session to discuss the May 28 Navajo Nation Supreme Court rulings.

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The council was given an overview of the decision on Shirley vs. Morgan, that was presented by Christina West, a lawyer for the council, and Frank Seanez, chief legislative counsel.

Under the Navajo Rules of Civil Appellate Procedure, any party seeking reconsideration of a decision made by the Supreme Court may file a petition for reconsideration within 20 days after the court renders a decision.

If the council decides to file a petition, they have until June 17.

"Overall, I would not advise the council to make a petition," West said.

Since the court made a public announcement about the decision rather than issuing a written opinion, it shows that they are secure in their decision and to reconsider it would be difficult for the court, she said.

"There is no need, in my opinion, to ask for reconsideration because it's not going to happen," said George Arthur (Nenahnezad/San Juan/T'iistoh Sikaad).

He added that the court's decision would be tested in the future.

Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Lupton/Nahata Dziil) said he read both opinions over the holiday weekend.

"I don't think we should let these radical ideas and radical rulings go without our say," Curley said.

Francis Redhouse (Teec Nos Pos) was concerned with jurisdiction and the statutes of Navajo Nation law.

"I am disappointed based on the professionalism, based on experience, based on credentials to make a decision regarding the authority of the Navajo Nation Council by the Supreme Court justices," Redhouse said. "I think the Supreme Court justices are questioning my authority as a council delegate."

Redhouse said that he understands applying the law without prejudice because he does that as chair of the Ethics and Rules committee.


Leonard Chee (Birdsprings/Leupp/Tolani Lake) supports filing a petition as a way to legally show that the council disagrees with the decision.

In his opinion, the justices had already made their decision once oral arguments were concluded April 20.

"I view the Supreme Court as a runaway train right now," Chee said. "I say that because they're taking some legislative responsibility."

Before ending his statements, Chee requested a federal review of the Navajo justice system because the branch receives federal funding.

He also expressed disappointment that the Supreme Court announced its decision at the Veterans Memorial Park instead of a courtroom. The announcement was originally scheduled to occur at the Navajo Nation Museum but was moved to the Window Rock High School then set at the park.

Leonard Tsosie (Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake) suggested that the council listen to the Navajo people before deciding whether to file a petition.

"Let's go back to our chapters and see how many want continued litigation. Go ask them," Tsosie said. "If members of the council wish to go forward, I would recommend you use your own money to go forward, don't use up the Navajo people's money to continue litigation."

He also explained that the high school became unavailable at the last minute and since the Supreme Court does not have a building, it was decided to hold the announcement at the park.

Amos Johnson (Forest Lake/Kíts'íílí/Tsé Ch'ízhí) said he attended a chapter meeting June 1 at Rough Rock, where he heard from people who opposed the court's decision. He supported Chee's suggestion to have the federal government review the judicial branch.

Ben Curley (Ganado/Kinlichee) turned the tables on the council by asking them how they would have ruled if they were sitting on the Supreme Court.

Later in the afternoon, the council was also to receive an overview on the decision for the Nelson vs. Shirley case.

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