Navajo Supreme Court Invalidates Council Resolutions, Calls for Election Immediately

Joe Shirley

Joe Shirley

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi, Stacy Thacker, Donovan Quintero
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK—The presidential election is finally moving forward, based on a decision issued by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court on Friday.

The decision by the court means that the presidential election between Russell Begaye and Joe Shirley Jr., will occur as soon as possible, said Karen Francis, spokeswoman for the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch.

The supreme court invalidated two resolutions that the 22nd Navajo Nation Council passed in December and ordered Edison Wauneka, executive director for the Navajo Election Administration, to hold the election immediately. The invalidation of the two council bills essentially allows for the election between Begaye and Shirley to occur, according to the court’s order.

No date has been set for the election between Begaye and Shirley at this time, Francis added.
Russell Begaye

Russell Begaye

The resolutions that were invalidated by the court deal with one bill that would have called for a new special primary and general election, with the possibility of the 17 primary presidential candidates having the option to run again, including Christopher Clark Deschene. Deschene was removed off the general election ballot by the supreme court for his lack of fluency in the Navajo language, and replaced by Begaye, who was the third most popular candidate in the primary, as outlined by tribal law.

The other bill invalidated by the court would have reinstated former members of the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors.

“While the brief of the Navajo Nation Council argued that forgiveness is a core Navajo value, the Court stated that to restore harmony, the offender must own up to his or her actions, offer an apology and rebuild relationships,” Francis said.  “The Court found no record that the former board members has offered such an expression.”

In addition, the court ordered that the NEA hold the elections of the six vacant positions on the Navajo Board of Election Supervisors, along with the presidential election.

According to Francis, the court also requested Speaker LoRenzo Bates and the council to convene in special session to quickly address the funding of the election.  The court denied the request by the petitioners – lawyers for Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne, who had filed grievances that led to this election saga –  to hold members of the council and election officials in contempt and/or to remove them from office.

“In this opinion, the Navajo Nation Supreme Court reiterated that all powers not delegated are reserved to the Navajo People,” Francis said, noting the court cited case law in its decision.

In other words, Francis cited how the court stated that this right cannot be “denied or disparaged except by vote of the People and that amendments to the Navajo Nation Code must be done in a manner that does not disturb or undermine the principles of check and balances, separate of powers, accountability to the People, acknowledgement of the People as the source of Navajo Nation governmental authority and service of the anti-corruption principle.”

Begaye said that the court’s decision was based on laws as well as “honor and respect” for the three branches of the Navajo government.

“The decision comes down to recognizing the balance of power and functions and roles of each branch,” Begaye said “The ruling is based on that. It wasn’t based on one candidate over another.”

Begaye, whose running mate is Council Delegate Jonathan Nez, said his campaign is ready. “We’re prepared to run,” he said. “We will bring the change and the difference the people are wanting.”

Shirley spokesman Alray Nelson, said that, “Mr. Shirley is pleased…Navajo law was upheld today.”

According to Nelson, Shirley is calling on Bates  and council to hold a special session as soon as possible to talk about funding the special election.

In response to the court’s decision, Deswood Tome, special aide to Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, said, “We are awaiting a day of an election, so a president can be chosen.”

“The Office of the Speaker is aware of the courts decision,” added Jared Touchin, spokesman for the legislative branch. “The decision is under review. Until it’s reviewed there is no comment.”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.


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