Navajo Times: Navajo SCT in Navajo Council’s “Crosshairs”

Additional documents:

NN Pres Press Release onElection of NN Judges

Justice Grant denied appt

Justice Shirley denied appt

From the Navajo Times:

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court is under attack.

Legislation to amend the rules for the Council’s Judiciary Committee governing removal of Supreme Court justices and district court judges is targeting Chief Justice Herb Yazzie, according to a “confidential” memo on the bill.

On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee voted against the permanent appointment of Associate Justice Louise Grant, although she had resigned Oct. 8 and did not attend the hearing.

A day earlier, the committee voted against permanent appointment of Associate Justice Eleanor Shirley, despite a hearing in which no negative comments or information about her were presented.

According to Navajo law, the president cannot reappoint people to the bench once the Judiciary Committee has voted not to confirm them in a permanent appointment.

Leonard Tsosie (Pueblo Pintado/Torreon/Whitehorse Lake), the only lawyer on the Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday that the committee’s 4-3 vote against Justice Shirley was “revenge” for the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of President Joe Shirley Jr. (no relation) and against the Council’s position in recent cases.

“The evidence before us didn’t support voting against Justice Shirley,” said Tsosie, one of three committee members who voted to confirm her. “In fact, it was unanimously satisfactory.”

On Wednesday, committee Chairman Kee Allen Begay (May Farms/Round Rock) denied Tsosie’s claim.

“The actions of the committee are not to retaliate against the Supreme Court like honorable Leonard Tsosie claims. The committee acted in the best interest of the Navajo people by upholding trust and being an accountable government,” Begay said. “Honorable Tsosie has a history of instigating arguments if a decision does not benefit his values, belief systems or himself.”

In May, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s dismissal of voter Tim Nelson’s complaint seeking to overturn a Dec. 15 election that reduced the 88-member Council to 24.

The high court also ordered the Navajo Election Administration to immediately conduct an election for 24 delegates and not 88, derailing efforts by current Council leaders to postpone the downsizing for four years.

The justices also upheld the lower court decision that the Council illegally placed President Joe Shirley Jr. on leave pending a special prosecutor’s investigation of two business deals that cost the tribe millions.

The high court’s ruling is now being recognized as a landmark decision that addresses the role of Diné Fundamental Law, the encroachment of the Council into the judicial branch, the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches, and the primary role of the Navajo people in shaping their government.

According to Sept. 13, 2010, memo labeled “confidential” and addressed to Chief Legislative Counsel Frank Seanez from Delegate Lorenzo Curley (Houck/Lupton/Nahata Dziil), proposed legislation to amend the Judiciary Committee’s hearing rules is intended “to remove the Navajo Nation Chief Justice.”

Continue reading