Native leaders urge Senators to give fair hearing to Obama’s Supreme Court nominee

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.

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Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians, says leaving the seat empty could harm Native people.

Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians ( Photo courtesy of NCAI)
Jacqueline Pata, Executive Director of the National Congress of American Indians ( Photo courtesy of NCAI)

“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.

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Daysha Eaton, KMXT - Kodiak
Daysha Eaton is a contributor with the Alaska Public Radio Network. Daysha Eaton holds a B.A. from Evergreen State College, and a M.A. from the University of Southern California. Daysha got her start in radio at Seattle public radio stations, KPLU and KUOW. Before coming to KBBI, she was the News Director at KYUK in Bethel. She has also worked as the Southcentral Reporter for KSKA in Anchorage. Daysha's work has appeared on NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered", PRI's "The World" and "National Native News". She's happy to take assignments, and to get news tips, which are best sent via email. Daysha became a journalist because she believes in the power of storytelling. Stories connect us and they help us make sense of our world. They shed light on injustice and they comfort us in troubled times. She got into public broadcasting because it seems to fulfill the intention of the 4th Estate and to most effectively apply the freedom of the press granted to us through the Constitution. She feels that public radio has a special way of moving people emotionally through sound, taking them to remote places, introducing them to people they would not otherwise meet and compelling them to think about issues they might ordinarily overlook.