Navajo Nation Supreme Court rules against Deschene, presidential candidate continues campaign

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court dismissed an appeal from Navajo Nation presidential candidate Chris Deschene Oct. 21. Photo/Deschene campaign

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court dismissed an appeal from Navajo Nation presidential candidate Chris Deschene Oct. 21. Photo/Deschene campaign

WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - The Navajo Nation Supreme Court dismissed Chris Deschene's appeal and disqualified him as a candidate for the presidency because of the failure of Deschene's team to attach required paperwork to an appeal.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court said its order of Oct. 9, which disqualified Deschene, is final and enforceable.

The ruling on Oct. 21 from the Navajo Nation Supreme Court was on Deschene's appeal of the default judgment against him from the Office of Hearing and Appeals not on the writ of mandamus and injunction.

The writ of mandamus was entered to force the Board of Election Supervisors to comply with the Office of Hearings and Appeals ruling and remove Deschene's name from the ballot after it had voted 7-1 to keep Deschene on the ballot.

The Notice of Appeal stated that a copy of the certified judgment needed to be attached to Deschene's appeal, not the transmitted copy from the Office of Hearings and Appeals.

"Any litigant who is serious about his case will ensure that all of the court's jurisdictional requirements are satisfied," the court ruling said. "If an appellant does not file one or more of the items required...this court does not have jurisdiction over the appeal...Deschene failed to comply with the jurisdictional requirements..."

Deschene said while he respects the Supreme Court, they "simply got this one wrong."

"I am qualified to be Navajo Nation president," Deschene said in a statement. "I remain on the ballot as a presidential candidate. The Navajo Nation must continue to vote."

Deschene also pointed out that the Navajo Nation Council, which is in recess until Thursday, has a legislative remedy on the agenda.

"You can support that effort with calls and emails," Deschene said. "This is not over. You can help by staying the course and voting."

The ruling on the writ of mandamus and injunction may come separately from the Navajo Nation Supreme Court and one outcome could be forcing the Navajo Nation Board of Election Supervisors to remove Deschene's name from the ballot.

However, in a statement after the ruling, Deschene said that the Election Supervisors have indicated they will keep Deschene's name on the ballot.

"The Board of Election Supervisors continues to protect Navajo fundamental law allowing our people to choose their own leaders, and I am grateful," Deschene said.

Two primary opponents in the primary presidential campaign, Dale E. Tsosie and Hank Whitehorne, filed the initial complaint against Deschene citing Navajo law that says anyone running for president must be fluent in Navajo.

During a hearing with the Office of Hearings and Appeals, a default judgment was issued against Deschene because he refused to answer the hearing officers questions and said that the fluency standard devised was made by a candidate who had not garnered enough votes to be a candidate for the presidency. The ruling prompted Deschene to file an appeal late in the day Oct. 20, the last day an appeal could be made.

The Navajo Nation Supreme Court issued a ruling on Sept. 26, which was affirmed again on Oct. 9, that said that the law that said presidential candidates must be fluent in Navajo was enacted to "preserve, protect and promote self-determination, for which language is essential."

The court said that as Diné, the Navajo people are the image of their ancestors and are created in connection with all creation and they are identified by their: Diné name, clan, language, life way, shadow, footprints and therefore they are called the Holy Earth-Surface-People.

"Different thinking, planning, life ways, languages, beliefs and laws appear among us, but the fundamental laws placed by the Holy People remain unchanged," the court said.

The court also ruled that the requirement for fluency in the Navajo language is a reasonable regulation of a candidate's right to participate in the political system and there was no evidence to show that the law was intended to discriminate against the young person who may not be fluent and who may aspire to be a leader.

"We therefore reject Deschene's arguments to simply disregard the explicit requirement for fluency as specified in [Navajo Nation law]," the court ruled.

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