Federal judge nixes Brown’s case to rejoin chief race
WASHINGTON – A federal judge on May 31 dismissed a lawsuit filed by Cherokee Nation citizen Rhonda Brown Fleming, who the tribe’s Election Commission earlier this year deemed ineligible to run for principal chief.
“Because the plaintiffs do not have standing, the court lacks jurisdiction over their claims,” Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan wrote in his ruling. “The defendants’ motions to dismiss will be granted, and the plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction will be denied as moot.”
Brown Fleming, having exhausted her appeals in tribal courts, filed suit against the CN in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. She sought to have her name placed on the tribe’s June 1 ballot or the election postponed to allow her an opportunity to comply with residency laws.
The CN Supreme Court on March 12 affirmed the Election Commission’s finding – based on citizen challenges – that Brown Fleming, a Freedman descendant from California, was ineligible to run for principal chief based on residency requirements. Her candidacy was challenged under the constitutional clause requiring principal chief candidates to be residents of the CN jurisdiction for at least 270 days prior to the election.
Hogan wrote that the plaintiffs – Brown Fleming and the Harvest Institute Freedman Federation LLC of Potomac, Maryland – lacked constitutional standing to sue.
“The plaintiffs have not alleged an injury in fact sufficient to demonstrate that Ms. Fleming has standing in this litigation,” the ruling states. “The Cherokee Nation Election Commission found Ms. Fleming ineligible to run because she did not meet the Cherokee Nation Constitution’s 270-day domicile requirement, which applies to all Cherokee citizens. As a result, the plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that she faces a substantial probability of injury, let alone the ‘imminent future injury’ required when seeking a preliminary injunction.”
The court noted that Fleming “twice sought a temporary restraining order to enjoin or delay the June 1, 2019, election for Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, which this court has twice denied.”
Brown Fleming filed the first complaint Aug. 30, 2018. On May 14, the court granted the CN’s motion to dismiss.
“The same day, the plaintiffs filed a new complaint,” the court ruling states. “These filings stemmed from the same facts, and raised identical challenges as the previous filings.”