Leader of Navajo Nation pushes for action on Supreme Court pick

Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye. Photo from Faceboo

The leader of the Navajo Nation is calling for the Senate to take action on U.S. Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Garland has heard several big Indian law cases as a member of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. While he didn't write any of the decisions, President Russell Begaye said the confirmation process will help explain the nominee's background.

"I look forward to learning about Mr. Garland’s knowledge about tribal governments and our place in the three-sovereign regime established in the U.S. Constitution, and I urge the Senate to hold hearings and an up and down vote as soon as possible," Begaye said in a statement on Tuesday. "The delivery of justice in our nation, in Indian country, and in Navajo country, relies on the quick execution of the appointment and confirmation process provided for in the Constitution."

The high court has been operating with eight members following the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia last month. But with a record number of Indian law cases on the docket, Begaye said tribes deserve a full slate.

"Any further delay in filling this vacancy could result in split decisions with serious implications for the nation and for Indian Country, such as with the Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians case," he said.

The court heard Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians prior to Scalia's death but a decision hasn't been issued. The outcome will determine whether Dollar General -- which reported $18.9 billion in net sales in 2014 -- can escape the jurisdiction of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians despite entering into an agreement with the tribe to operate a store on the reservation.

Oral arguments in US v. Bryant, a domestic violence case that will affect protections for Native women, are scheduled for April 19. The case originated from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers the states where the Navajo Nation is based.

US v. Bryant is the last remaining Indian law case that the court has accepted but petitions are pending in several more cases.

The court decided Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin v. US on January 25 so it wasn't affected by the vacancy. By a unanimous vote, the Menominee Nation lost its contract support costs case against the Indian Health Service.

The court issued its decision in Nebraska v. Parker on Tuesday but the vacancy did not pay a role either. By a unanimous vote of the eight remaining justices, Omaha Tribe won its reservation boundary case.

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