Supreme Court: Baker, Crittenden can’t run in 2019
Bill John Baker
S. Joe Crittenden
TAHLEQUAH – The Cherokee Nation’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Oct. 30 that Principal Chief Bill John Baker and Deputy Chief S. Joe Crittenden are ineligible for re-election in the tribe’s 2019 general election.
According to the ruling, the CN Constitution states that the principal chief’s terms of office shall be four years and that no person having been elected to the office in two consecutive elections shall be eligible to file for office following a second term. The ruling states that the same limitation applies to the deputy chief’s office. Both Baker and Crittenden were elected in 2011 and 2015.
“The Cherokee Constitution should be read as it is plainly written to carry out the will of the people. This constitutional provision could not be more clearly written,” the ruling states. “Once a person has been ‘elected’ for 2 consecutive terms of office, that person becomes ineligible for the next election. There is no room for extension by way of challenge or other event which might shorten the number of days in office. If a person is elected 2 consecutive times, the Constitutional term limit applies.”
The court on Sept. 10 initially dismissed the case for lack of case or controversy. However, after receiving a motion to reconsider from Attorney General Todd Hembree, the court took up the matter again.
“The Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation argues that because the 2019 election is fast approaching and the issues here affect the eligibility for office of both the Principal Chief and Deputy Principal Chief races, the same should be revisited,” the ruling states. “While the date to commence filing for office is not until the first Monday of February, 2019, it is represented that the candidates will be eligible to receive campaign contributions as early as December 1, 2018.”
The ruling also states the case of Smith v. Election Commission (SC-09-03) sets precedence for early consideration of candidate eligibility.
“Because of the urgency and need for an early and certain determination of eligibility, the argument can be made that the issues should be decided now. While Smith turns on the eligibility to run under the Cherokee Constitution of 1999, it was considered ripe for review even before the candidacy filing date for the 2011 election,” the ruling states. “At that time this Court did determine that it was a matter of ‘compelling public urgency’ because the election was at hand. For these reasons, this Court will and does vacate its…order herein of September 10, 2018, and reach the merits of the controversy.”
Hembree appealed the case to the Supreme Court after District Court Judge Luke Barteaux ruled in April that Baker could run in 2019 but Crittenden couldn’t.
Barteaux’s ruling stemmed from a challenge by CN citizen David Cornsilk to Hembree’s official opinion in which he states Baker and Crittenden could run in 2019 because they didn’t serve their full four-year terms after being elected in 2011. Hembree’s opinion stated that Baker didn’t take office until Oct. 19, 2011, nine weeks after the term began, and that Crittenden had to serve in the principal chief’s capacity upon his Aug. 14, 2011, inauguration until Baker took office.
Under CN law, official attorney general opinions carry the weight of law until overturned by a court, another attorney general opinion or a law.
Cornsilk filed suit against Hembree’s opinion in February, claiming it violated the CN Constitution because Baker and Crittenden had been elected in two consecutive elections and that their terms ran from Aug. 14, 2011, to Aug. 14, 2015. He stated that the “term exists independent of whether there is someone sitting in the office” and that Hembree’s “reading of the Constitution would require the very text of the Constitution to be ignored.”
In response the Oct. 30 ruling, Cornsilk said it was a win for the CN citizens.
“Our Constitution is the will of the people and what it says means something. I am glad our Supreme Court agreed with my arguments and preserved the rule of law above politics,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General Chrissi Ross Nimmo said in a written statement that the “Supreme Court disagreed with the AG’s interpretation of the application of term limits, which is the purpose of the judicial review provision of the Attorney General Act. What is most important is that the Supreme Court has provided clarity for potential candidates and more importantly, Cherokee voters. The Office of the Attorney General has no plans to seek any additional review of this decision.”Click here
to read the ruling.