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Navajo Supreme Court Rules Tsosie Can't Serve on Two Legislative Bodies

By Felicia Fonseca/
Associated Press
      Before the Navajo Nation Council meets Monday for its winter session, Leonard Tsosie must decide whether he wants to serve as a council delegate or remain a New Mexico state senator.
    The Navajo Nation Supreme Court ruled he can't do both.
    The court issued an order Thursday giving the Crownpoint Democrat until 9 a.m. Monday to inform the Navajo Election Administration of his choice.
    The Supreme Court's decision upholds a previous ruling by the Navajo Office of Hearing and Appeals.
    "Of course I'm disappointed,'' Tsosie said. "I think we did write a good brief, and we talked about how I could play more of a bridge of understanding between the two sovereigns. From the state side, there is no prohibition against it, but from the tribe's side, we have this little law against it.''
    Tsosie was elected in November to represent the Navajo chapters of Whitehorse Lake, Pueblo Pintado and Torreon in New Mexico. Under Navajo election law, Tsosie could not be sworn in earlier this month because he did not resign his elected state position, which he has held since 1993.
    "Only when a person accepts through an oath, will all of the Navajo people say that a person has been properly installed as a leader,'' Navajo Supreme Court justices said in their ruling. "A person may not swear to obey and serve simultaneously the laws of the (Navajo) Nation and the state of New Mexico.''
    Tsosie said he would meet with his supporters over the weekend to help him make a decision on which office to serve.
    If Tsosie chooses to remain a state senator, the seat representing the Pueblo Pintado, Whitehorse Lake and Torreon chapters will be declared vacant and a special election will be held.
    Tsosie argued to the Navajo Supreme Court on Wednesday that he should be allowed to keep both seats under what's known as Dine Fundamental Law, which says Navajos have the right to freely choose their leaders.
    But Navajo election law states delegates cannot hold elected state or federal offices.
    Tsosie's attorney, Patterson Joe of Dilkon, Ariz., said he had hoped the court would rule that fundamental law takes precedence over the election law.
    "That's been the teachings and the principles articulated by the Supreme Court until now,'' Joe said. "We're quite surprised they didn't take this opportunity to continue in that direction.''
    The court ruled that the provisions of the Navajo Nation Election Code that prohibit a council delegate from also serving as a state senator "is not in irreconcilable conflict'' with the fundamental law.
    The justices didn't elaborate on how their ruling relates to fundamental law, but said a formal opinion would be issued in "a few days.''
    Members of the Dooda Desert Rock Committee, which opposes a proposed coal-fired power plant in northwestern New Mexico, encouraged Navajo leaders to uphold the fundamental law and lent their support to Tsosie.
    Tsosie's intentions are to represent the best interest of the Navajo people, the committee said in a statement Wednesday.
    "We need representatives with Sen. Tsosie's caliber to go to bat for us on the Navajo Nation Council as well,'' the group said.

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