Supreme Court appointment should support tribal sovereignty

WASHINGTON -- As liberals and conservatives prepare to campaign for the successor of Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a Navajo advocate hopes the new associate justice is aware of treaty rights and supports tribal sovereignty.

"Not only does the next Associate Justice need to be well briefed regarding general hot button issues, candidates must be prepared to render positions on tribal self-determination, gaming and treaty rights," said Javier Ramos, a legislative associate for the Navajo Nation Washington Office. "A strong foundation in sovereignty issues is crucial as cases regarding Native American civil and criminal rights grow in profile, as demonstrated in the recent contract support costs decision."

In that decision last March, the Supreme Court ruled federal agencies were obligated to pay Native American tribes contract support costs needed to administrate programs released to tribal contractors. The favorable opinion, settled a dispute where the Department of Health and Human Services stated they were not required to pay for costs if Congress did not appropriate an amount that would cover the redirected delivery of services.

Justice O'Connor's court record regarding tribal issues mirrors her larger record, ruling in favor of some cases, such as Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma v. Leavitt, and dissenting in others.

In 2001, Justice O'Connor, with fellow Justice Stephan Breyer, visited the Navajo Nation and praised the Navajo Department of Justice's Peacekeeper Program in settling domestic disputes by stating it was very caring system.

Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan in 1981. She announced recently she would retire once her successor was sworn in. An Arizona native, she was the first woman seated on the high court and also served as an Arizona State Senator.

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