Navajo Supreme Court asked to invalidate Navajo Council resolution for referendum to change Navajo language fluency law

A legal rerquest was made this morning to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court to enforce its Feb, 20 decision for the Navajo Election Administration to hold a special presidential election between former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr. and former Navajo Nation Council Delegate Russell Begaye as soon as possible.

The NEA announced weeks ago that the special election for presidency, Land Boards and the Election Board is April 21.

But on Monday, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly signed off on a Navajo Council resolution for a referendum to be held before the April 21 special election.

The referendum, which was sponsored by Council Delegates Leonard Tsosie and Nathaniel Brown, would amend the Navajo election law by changing the Navajo language fluency requirement for presidential candidates by stating that the Navajo voters, with their vote, would qualify a presidential candidate’s requirement to speak the Navajo and English languages.

The current law mandates that an individual must fluently speak the Navajo language, among other requirements, to qualify as a presidential candidate, which is why presidential candidate Chris Deschene was disqualified by the Navajo Office of Hearings and Appeals, on an election grievance filed by former presidential candidates Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne.

But if the Tsosie-Brown referendum is approved, Deschene would be qualified to be a presidential candidate, which could lead to the Council calling a special session and nullifying the 2014 Primary for the presidential race so that a new Primary could be held with the same 17 presidential candidates.

The 2014 Primary Election resulted in Shirley and Deschene taking the two positions. But then Deschene was disqualified, which resulted in a long and convoluted political battle that was fought before the Supreme Court. In the end, Deschene’s disqualification was upheld; the Election Board was found in contempt of court and removed; two of the Council’s resolutions that pardoned the Election Board and nullify the 2014 Primary presidential race and ordered a 2015 Primary with the 17 candidates, including Deschene, in June and a General presidential election August were invalidated being illegal, and the election office set April 21 as the special presidential election between Shirley and Begaye.

The attorneys for Tsosie and Whitethorne, David Jordan of Gallup, N.M., and Justin Jones of Farmington, N.M., the attorney, stated in their motion to the Supreme, “Enough is Enough. The import(ance) of this current crisis cannot be understaded. If the Council is allowed to stop a presidential election from occurring, serious questions arise arise about whether the Navajo Nation government can be considered democratic anymore.”

Jordan and Jones noted, “The top two candidates are now prevented from having an election. The ninth-place finisher sits in Window Rock as president. Strong action must be taken by this court to protect the integrity of Navajo government and the right of the Navajo people to elect their president.”

The action recommended to the Supreme Court by Jordan and Jones were:
(1) Partially invalidate Resolution CMA-06-15 because it denies the people the fundamental right of the leader of their choosing. Affirm the validity of Section 11(E) only, which would fund the presidential election on April 21.
(2) Invalidate Resolution CMA-06-15 and directly order the Navajo Nation Controller and the Office of Management and Budget to fund (the) election directly, circumventing the legislative process entirely.
(3) Invalidate Resolution CMA-06-15 and inform the Council that, because the current president was not validly elected, the Supreme Court will invalidate all legislation coming from the Council until a validly elected president is inaugurated.
(4) Invalidate Resolution CMA-06-15 and order the NEA (Navajo Election Administration) to set up a separate account for the election at Wells Fargo Bank. Order Wells Fargo to transfer $317,891 out of Navajo Nation general operating account into the special election account, with (NEA Director) Edison Wauneka having sole authority over that action.
(5) Issue an order to show cause and hold the Council in contempt. Remove Council Delegates from office if they refuse to follow the orders of this court.
(6) Invalidate Resolution CMA-06-15 and order NEA to use its existing funds to fund election until those funds are depleted. It is understood by the undersigned that such enough funds are presently in the NEA accounts, but that the cost of the election would drain all of these accounts. Order the NEA to request supplemental funding after the election to continue its operation.
(7) No matter what the Court decides to do, petitioners request that the Court enter an order preventing the Council from removing Edison Wauneka from office so long as he is complying with the directives of this court. Also the court should enter an injunctive order prohibiting the Council from any legislation that would interfere with the April 21, 2015, election.”

The attorneys also stated that since the new referendum election legislation raises no new issues that there is no need for the Supreme Court to require written and oral legal arguments.

“Rather, the Court should act swiftly to protect the April 21, 2015, election date,” they stated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *