Navajo Nation Supreme Court rules Begaye can stay on ballot for presidential election

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Nation Supreme Court ruled that Russell Begaye should remain on the ballot in the Navajo Nation presidential campaign, dismissing an appeal of a lower court ruling.

On Dec. 17, the higher court released its decision saying that it affirmed the decision of the lower court to dismiss the challenge made by Myron McLaughlin to Russell Begaye but on different grounds than the lower court found.

McLaughlin originally challenged Begaye's qualifications to run for president of the Navajo Nation alleging he had not demonstrated "unswerving loyalty to the Navajo Nation." McLaughlin alleged that Begaye had violated tribal law by being part of a lawsuit on June 27 by shareholders in the Navajo Nation Oil and Gas Company that sought to overturn a ruling by the Navajo Nation Supreme Court.

The Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) dismissed McLaughlin's complaint on Nov. 24 saying that "as a matter of law, that [federal court] action is not "disloyal" such that it would disqualify a candidate from running for president."

McLaughlin then appealed to the higher court.

The Supreme Court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction in this case and dismissed the appeal by McLaughlin.

It said that McLaughlin's challenge to Begaye was filed on Oct. 31. It should have been filed within 10 days of June 27 when the lawsuit was filed in federal court because that was the incident that was said to disqualify Begaye.

"The filing of McLaughlin's grievance on Oct. 31, five months after the filing, was thus untimely," the court ruled. "Dismissal was therefore proper but on grounds that OHA lacked subject matter jurisdiction."

The higher court also had issues with how the Navajo Nation Department of Justice (NNDOJ) handled McLaughlin's appeal. The higher court ordered the NNDOJ to represent OHA in the filing of a response but the department of justice declined to do so without explanation.

The justices said it was "troubling" that the NNDOJ filed a pleading on the case without going through normal procedures. It also had an issue with the NNDOJ attacking the validity of basic qualifications. The NNDOJ asked the court to invalidate the "unswerving loyalty" requirement because neither the candidate nor the people know what it means and that the people could determine the meaning of a candidates' words or actions by voting for them.

"The recommendation to simply defer to the ever-changing political will of the people to define our laws at any given moment in time is not only dangerous to our sovereignty, it is not Diné in thought," the justices said. "Our laws should not sway with the times."

Russell Begaye will face former Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley in the Navajo Nation presidential election after the higher court affirmed a decision to remove Chris Deschene from the ballot in October.

The higher court also responded to a motion asking for more time beyond the Dec. 23 deadline for the presidential election. The court ordered that the presidential election be held no later than Jan. 31 and "without unnecessary delay."

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