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Alaska Natives seek fair consideration of Supreme Court nominee

Native women and their supporters rallied at the U.S. Supreme Court on December 7, 2015, as the justices heard Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Photo by Indianz.Com

President Barack Obama is close to announcing his nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court and Alaska Natives want to ensure his pick gets a fair shot in the Senate.

Republicans -- including Alaska's two Senators -- have vowed to block any nominee. But Julie Kitka, the president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said the court will benefit from having a full slate of justices as soon as possible.

“It is in the country's best interest to have a working political system rather than one of gridlock,” Kitka said at a press conference on Thursday, Alaska Dispatch News reported.

Jackie Pata, an Alaska Native who serves as executive director of the National Congress of American Indians, echoed a similar message. She said the court needs nine justices in order to avoid deadlocks and rehearings in critical cases.

“It would not be good for Native people and our tribal governments if the Supreme Court is caught in a 4-4 tie for the next two years," Pata said, Alaska Dispatch News reported. "If Congress doesn't even consider a nominee until after the next election, there will be a 4-4 tie for all of this year and next year's Supreme Court term, and important legal questions could be held in limbo for a long time, which creates uncertainty."

Obama is reportedly down to three choices. According to The Washington Post, he's considering Merrick Garland, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals; Sri Srinivasan, who sits on the same court; and Paul Watford of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Both the 9th Circuit and the D.C. Circuit hear a significant number of Indian law cases and all three potential picks have experience with Indian law cases. Watford, for example, was part of the panel that decided US v. Bryant, a domestic violence case that will be heard by the Supreme Court on April 19.

Garland has ruled in the Cobell trust fund case and was part of panel that decided the infamous tribal labor law case back in 2007. He's due to hear a land-into-trust case that affects the Cowlitz Tribe of Washington this Friday.

Srinivasan is newer to the D.C. Circuit so he doesn't have much of a record there. But he has Indian law experience from his days at the Department of Justice. He argued two contract support costs cases before the Supreme Court in November 2004. The federal government lost the dispute.

Get the Story:
Alaska tribal advocates want Murkowski, Sullivan to vet a Supreme Court nominee (Alaska Dispatch News 3/11)
Native leaders urge Senators to give fair hearing to Obama’s Supreme Court nominee (KBBI 3/11)
President Obama reportedly is down to three finalists for Supreme Court vacancy (The Washington Post 3/11)
For Harry Reid, the Supreme Court Vacancy Offers One Last Fight (The New York Times 3/14)

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