Paden confirmed to Cherokee Nation Supreme Court
Supreme Court Justice John Garrett swears in Cherokee Nation citizen Lee W. Paden as a Supreme Court justice on Sept. 27 during a special Tribal Council meeting in Tahlequah. COURTESY
TAHLEQUAH – In a special Tribal Council meeting on Sept. 27, legislators confirmed Cherokee Nation citizen Lee W. Paden to the Supreme Court by a 14-1 vote, with Justice John Garrett swearing him in immediately afterward.
Principal Chief Bill John Baker nominated Paden, of Tulsa, to fulfill the term of the late Angela Jones, which expires Dec. 31, 2022.
“Undoubtedly, Lee Paden will be an adamant champion of our tribal sovereignty and a fair defender of the Cherokee Nation constitution. The tribe’s Supreme Court will be stronger because of his leadership, education and experience,” Baker said. “A prominent Cherokee Nation citizen, he has served both U.S. senators and Oklahoma governors during his storied career in public service and is extremely versed in federal, state and tribal law.”
In the special meeting, Tribal Councilor Dick Lay was the sole vote against Paden’s nomination, while Councilors Shawn Crittenden and Wanda Hatfield were absent.
Earlier in the day, the Rules Committee moved Paden’s nomination to the full Tribal Council by a 15-1 vote after voting to withdraw the nomination of Shawna Baker. Lay was the sole no vote.
Baker’s nomination stalled in the Sept. 10 Tribal Council meeting after legislators voted to send it back to the Rules Committee. Those opposing her nomination 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.
During the Rules Committee meeting, Paden answered questions regarding his legal experience and tribal sovereignty.
“I think the most important elements are that they have an understanding of tribal statutes, the Constitution of the Cherokee Nation, and I think it’s also important to have some understanding of the way regulations work because statutes are the general form of the law, but in many cases regulations wind up being the process that’s used to enact and enforce the law. So, a justice of the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court has to have an understanding how that operates,” Paden said.
Councilor Mary Baker Shaw asked how his experience working with energy companies in the past would relate to the highest court in the CN.
He said because the tribe owns an abundance of land that is often used for rights-of-way, power lines and a number of oil and gas leases, this would help him have a better understanding of issues that might arise involving tribal lands, allotted lands and CN citizens.
Paden earned a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma Baptist University in 1964 and a juris doctorate from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1967.
He began his legal career as a staff attorney in 1967 for Sunray DX Oil Company where he researched federal and state laws that affected the oil and gas industry, drafted legal memoranda for supervising attorneys and pleadings in various litigation matters on behalf of Sunray DX.
From 1969-78, he served as a special assistant and legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Henry Bellmon where he advised Bellmon on topics affecting Oklahoma, including Native American legislative issues and energy and environmental legislation.
Paden has also served as a special hearing officer for the CN Administrative Appeals Board from 2013-17 after being appointed by Baker.
He is also a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association and Cherokee Bar Association.