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Shelly, Bates Challenge Supreme Court

Shelly, Bates Challenge Supreme Court
April 01
14:33 2015

Lorenzo Bates

By John Christian Hopkins

With less than three weeks to go, Navajo officials are scrambling to get a Navajo Supreme Court decision overturned.

President Ben Shelly and Speaker LoRenzo Bates have filed a motion to intervene in a bid to postpone the court-ordered April 21 election.

“The order issued by the Supreme Court is yet another example of the Supreme Court overstepping its authority and clearly displays a lack of respect for the authority of our Nation’s three-branch government,” according to a statement released by the Voters Right’s Coalition.
The VRC is a grassroots group that was opposed any presidential election that does not include its preferred candidate, LeChee’s Chris Clark Deschene. The group is also championing efforts to oust Chief Justice Herb Yazzie from the bench.

The VRC statement insisted that the general election for the Navajo President will take place after the Navajo People have an opportunity to vote on the question of fluency in a referendum.

As of now, that is more wishful thinking rather than fact.

The fractious issue began after the 2014 presidential election. Two of the losing contenders – Dale Tsosie and Hank Whitethorne – filed a grievance against runner-up Deschene, alleging that he was not fluent in the Navajo language.

The Office of Hearings and Appeals tossed out the complaint on the grounds that it was filed after the deadline for such appeals and that only wining candidates could file a grievance after an election.

However the Supreme Court disagreed and order the OHA to revisit the complaint.

When Deschene refused to take a fluency test, the OHA removed him from the ballot and replaced him with third-place finisher Russell Begaye.

Pres Shelly    small

President Ben Shelly

Court-ordered election deadlines came and went as the 22nd Navajo Nation Council refused to fund the election. Instead it passed resolutions to waive the fluency requirement; those attempts were vetoed by Shelly, who argued the issue was too important to be arbitrarily waived by he council.

Finally, the 23rd Council agreed. In mid-March it passed a new resolution calling for nationwide referendum on the fluency issue – before the April 21 election.

Shelly signed this into law, despite the all-but-unworkable time schedule.

The court tossed out this legislation last week and ordered the Navajo Election Administration to prepare for the April 21 election. It told the NEA to fund the election with whatever money it had and then to apply for supplemental funding.

It further forbade any council retaliation against the NEA.

The NEA began early voting March 27.

The VRD ramped up its efforts to remove Yazzie from the bench and to thwart the April 21 vote.

In their motions to the court, Shelly and Bates ague that the court overstepped its authority in demanding the April 21 election go on and telling the NEA to move forward with the election and ignore the fluency referendum.

Both Shelly and Bates said in their motion that a presidential election would be held after the referendum.

The motion said the court disregarded the tribe’s stance when it ordered Acting Controller Robert Willie to transfer $317,000 to the NEA to pay for the election.

The Court ordered its decision without the benefit of considering input from the Navajo Nation Council and the Navajo Nation President, according to the motion to intervene.

Since the ruling, the Navajo Department of Justice submitted a request for clarification as to how the acting controller should fund the election as ordered by the Supreme Court.

The Appropriations Act and the Budget Instruction Manual (BIM) say that the full Council and/or one of its standing committees must approve the appropriation of funds.

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