Council sends Supreme Court nomination back to committee
Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez reads a statement supporting the nomination of Shawna Baker for the Supreme Court justice during the Sept. 10 Tribal Council meeting at the W.W. Keeler Complex in Tahlequah. The Tribal Council sent the nomination back to the Rules Committee. LINDSEY BARK/CHEROKEE PHOENIX
TAHLEQUAH – By a 9-8 vote, Tribal Councilors during their Sept. 10 meeting tabled and sent back to the Rules Committee Cherokee Nation citizen Shawna Baker’s Supreme Court justice nomination.
In the Aug. 30 Rules Committee meeting, legislators approved her nomination by a 10-6 margin. Those voting for her were Tribal Councilors Bryan Warner, Keith Austin, Joe Byrd, Mike Dobbins, Frankie Hargis, Wanda Hatfield, Victoria Vazquez, E.O. Smith, Janees Taylor and Rex Jordan.
Tribal Councilor Shawn Crittenden was absent.
Those opposing her nomination in the Rules Committee meeting voiced concerns about her legal background and lack of involvement with the CN by having not previously worked with the tribe on legal matters or served on any committees or boards.
Tribal Councilor Mary Baker Shaw asked Baker on Aug. 30 how her legal experience would translate to tribal law.
“I don’t think that it necessarily translates, which I believe is a very good thing for me. What it means is that I will not bring any conflicts of interests, won’t necessarily find that subject to disqualification or needing to recuse myself for matters that come before the court,” Baker said. “Furthermore, while there may be people that don’t know me, and I may not have served the Cherokee Nation before, I think that brings something unique to the court. I am neutral.”
Other legislators voiced concern with her lack of Cherokee community and cultural involvement.
“I’d like to see someone that has interacted with our Cherokee people, our Cherokee holidays, our Cherokee culture, our Cherokee government,” Tribal Councilor Harley Buzzard on Aug. 30 said.
Dobbins voted for Baker on Aug. 30 but retracted his support in the Tribal Council meeting by motioning to table her nomination.
“I just became more familiar with Miss Baker’s legal background,” he said. “There was just no Cherokee background professionally or personally that I could see. At the outset I was asked to sponsor her and I did so, but after that I learned more things about her and her background and I had a different conclusion.”
Legislators who voted to table Baker’s nomination were Buzzard, Buel Anglen, Dobbins, Crittenden, Mike Shambaugh, Byrd, Dick Lay, David Walkingstick and Baker Shaw.
Those supporting Baker in the Rules Committee and Tribal Council meetings said her legal background and education made her highly qualified to be a Supreme Court justice.
In the Sept. 10 meeting, Tribal Councilor Victoria Vazquez read a written statement saying that one of the “least compelling arguments against Ms. Baker’s nomination is that she lacks experience in Indian law.”
“Our Supreme Court deals with relationships between the Cherokee Nation government and its institutions and citizens, constitutional law, statutory interpretation, civil procedure, contract, family law, criminal law are among many areas of the law that are vastly more important than Indian law,” Vazquez read. “Miss Baker has some knowledge of Indian law and has vastly more exposure to and experience in these other more relevant areas of the law. More importantly she has the experience and intellect to understand all areas of the law. So I find the criticism of her legal background to be completely baseless.”
If approved, Baker would have been only the third woman to serve on the tribe’s Supreme Court following Stacy Leeds and Angela Barker-Jones, who died on July 31 after a battle with cancer.
In other business, legislators unanimously approved the tribe’s fiscal year 2019 budget of nearly $887 million. Tribal Council officials said the largest departmental budget went to Health Services at $367.9 million, up $4.3 million from last year. The Health Services budget also saw an $11.6 million increase for health centers in Jay, Muskogee, Nowata, Ochelata, Salina, Sallisaw, Stilwell, and Vinita.
Other increases include a $4.8 million bump for Human Services totaling $53 million, a $522,000 total increase for the immersion school and a $95,000 increase for a full-time district court judge.