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Christopher Chavis: Navajo court got it wrong in fluency case






Supporters of Chris Deschene rallied earlier this month. Photo from Facebook

Law student Christopher Chavis argues that Navajo Nation presidential candidate Chris Deschene should be allowed to stay on the ballot despite not being fluent in the Navajo language:
We have agreed that there is a compelling interest at play here, the right of the Navajo Nation to preserve its cultural identity and honor its ancient laws by requiring that its leader be a fluent Navajo speaker. In light of a declining number of fluent speakers however, a blanket ban seems to not be narrowly tailored at all. The Navajo Court itself has stated that any restrictions on running must be reasonable public policy. The current trajectory of this policy will result in thousands of people being unable to run Navajo Nation President in the coming years. The result will be a diluted pool of candidates who may not represent the most qualified. It is because of that that the policy must be amended to allow candidates who are not fluent in the language to run, with the caveat that they must agree upon election to immediately begin taking classes that will enhance their knowledge of the language.

In regards to any concerns about the cultural authenticity of the candidate, the Court has previously dealt with that by placing ample faith in the voter. In a previous case, they stated “[i]f the People are concerned that candidates unfamiliar with Navajo life run in elections, they are free not to vote for that candidate. The candidate’s ignorance of the Navajo experience will be immediately apparent when the candidate campaigns and discusses the issues with the People.” The Court used this as its justification for striking down the residency requirement. The same logic can also apply here. Voters will quickly figure out that a candidate does not have the Navajo Nation’s best interests at heart and will vote against the candidate accordingly.

It is my conclusion that the Navajo Supreme Court should apply its own analysis to find that the current restriction does not represent reasonable public policy and is not a reasonable restriction on what it has held to be a fundamental right.

Get the Story:
Christopher Chavis Guest Post on the Chris Deschene Election Qualifications Controversy at Navajo (Turtle Talk 10/22)

Navajo Nation Supreme Court Order:
Tsosie v. Deschene (October 22, 2014)

Earlier Navajo Nation Supreme Court Order:
Tsosie v. Deschene (September 26, 2014)

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