ROCK - Claudeen Bates Arthur started her law career on the Navajo
Reservation as a law clerk at DNA People's Legal Services during
forward to 2003 and she finds herself as the head of the largest
tribal court system in the United States.
Tuesday during the fall session, the Navajo Nation Council confirmed
the appointment of Arthur as chief justice of the Navajo Nation
a vote of 53 in favor, 14 opposed, and 4 abstained, Arthur becomes
the first woman to serve as chief justice since the position was
created in 1985 during the Peterson Zah administration.
a major point in history," Arthur said after the vote. "Dispute
resolution is what Navajo women have always done in the past because
we've been in charge of the home and of our families."
the confirmation Arthur was in private practice. She graduated with
a law degree from Arizona State University College of Law. She also
served as chief legislative counsel from 1989 to 1995. Before that
she was the attorney general for the White Mountain Apache Tribe
from 1987 to 1989.
expected that Arthur will take over as chief justice in a couple
of weeks. She will serve on the bench for a two-year probationary
period and could be confirmed as permanent chief justice in 2005.
replaces retiring Chief Justice Robert Yazzie who gave his farewell
speech to the council on Monday.
said all that she's accomplished in her career has to be credited
to her family.
the confirmation began, Arthur introduced the members of her extended
family who sat in the gallery of the council chambers for most of
the day waiting for the vote.
a mother of four and a grandmother of 11, she wouldn't be where
she is now without the support of her family, she said.
then acknowledged her aunts and uncles and her 91-year-old mother,
is who I am," Arthur said of her family.
the council, she spoke about the integrity of tribal courts and
the challenges that come from other courts that overrule tribal
courts are under constant attack," she said. She added that
when people don't like decisions made by tribal judges they run
to the state and federal courts to get another ruling, which weakens
tribal court decisions.
said that needs to stop.
courts need to become second to none to state and federal courts,"
said protecting the integrity of tribal courts is important in maintaining
the sovereignty of the tribe.
courts are an absolute act of sovereignty," Arthur said and
added that under her direction she'd make sure that tribal court
decisions are strengthened.
other issues Arthur wants to address is the overload of cases clogging
Navajo courts. She said she would like to limit certain cases that
reach the Supreme Court and limit off-reservation travel for legal
don't have specific answers yet but those are some of the things
I'd like to address with the staff," Arthur said.
said she wants to build upon the foundation built by Yazzie and
Chief Justice Emeritus Tom Tso.
who's known Arthur for over 30 years, said he knows she will continue
with the vision of the Navajo Supreme Court. He said that the court
seeks to make fair, economical and expeditious decisions.
Navajo Nation Chairman and President Peterson Zah has also seen
Arthur's career grow over the years. He knew her when she was a
clerk at DNA.
said she was instrumental in the now famous Supreme Court case,
Kerr-McGee v. Navajo Tribe of Indians, which gave the Navajo Nation
the right to tax entities on the reservation without first getting
the approval of the U.S. Department of Interior.
argued the case with former Navajo Department of Justice attorney
Elizabeth Bernstein. The case was decided on April 16, 1985.
was probably the last case the Navajo won," Zah said of the
decision. He said from then on April 16th was designated as Navajo
Sovereignty Day. Sovereignty Day was celebrated this year on April
was a good feeling sitting there at the confirmation ... it makes
you feel real good," Zah said.