Alaska Native leaders held a press call Thursday urging Alaska’s senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, to give a fair hearing and a timely vote to President Barack Obama’s forthcoming Supreme Court nomination.
The seat was left vacant when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February.
Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, says leaving the seat empty could harm Native people.
“Tribes are affected by the federal courts to a greater degree than almost any other group in the country, Pata said. “So 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. NCAI has adopted a resolution urging both the President and the Senate to move forward to nominate and consider a replacement.”
Payta pointed out that the court regularly hears cases involving subsistence on federal public lands, protection of children under the Indian Child Welfare act and tribal programs under the Indian Self-Determination Act. She said important legal questions could be held in limbo if the seat is left unfilled.
Julie Kitka, President of Alaska Federation of Natives says filling the vacancy on the High Court is critical.
“The U.S. Constitution spells out quite clearly that it is the President’s responsibility to nominate a Supreme Court nominee and the Senate’s duty to hear and vote upon the nominee,” said Kitka.
Both Payta and Kitka discouraged Alaska’s delegation from joining in the obstructionist rhetoric of GOP leaders who have said they may block the President’s nomination.
And they say they hope the President will consider nominating a Native American from the western United States who has grounding in federal Indian Law. They urged the nomination of Diane Humetewa, a member of the Hopi tribe from Arizona.