MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

June 19, 2013

Judge denies motion on Cherokee election

Tribal Council hopeful sought to keep election open till freedmen were registered

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— A federal court judge denied a Cherokee Nation Tribal Council candidate’s bid to hold open this week’s election until the tribe processes all pending citizenship applications filed by freedmen descendants.

Robin Mayes, one of six candidates competing for an at-large post, also is seeking an order “to hold open the election” long enough to allow those applicants time to register to vote and cast ballots.

U.S. District Judge Terence C. Kern of the Northern District of Oklahoma rejected Mayes’ request Tuesday in a four-page opinion and order. Federal procedural rules, Kern reasoned, require Mayes show four equitable factors.

Those factors include a strong likelihood of succeeding on the merits, a showing of irreparable harm if the injunction is denied, the threatened harm outweighs the prospective injury to the other party, and the injunction would not be adverse to public policy.

Mayes contends the court order issued by a federal judge in 2011 directs tribal officials to ensure freedmen descendants “have access to and receive rights and benefits on the same terms as any other Cherokee citizen.” The order, Mayes said, includes assurances that freedmen have the “right to register as a Cherokee citizen and to vote in the 2013 election.”

Kern disagreed with Mayes’ interpretation of the 2011 court order filed during the extraordinary principal chief election. Kern, reciting the 2011 order, states that order applies only to freedmen descendants “who were enrolled as citizens as of Aug. 22, 2011, are recognized as citizens of the Cherokee Nation.”

“The parties’ agreement is silent as to how the Nation must handle new or pending applications for citizenship by freedmen descendants,” Kern reasons. “All of Mr. Mayes’ complaints relate to the nation’s failures to take actions on citizenship applications rather than the nation’s treatment of freedmen descendants who were already enrolled as citizens as of Aug. 22, 2011.”

Mayes said the adverse ruling likely will result with “an election challenge ... that could force a new election.” He described that scenario as “devastating to all candidates.”

“It is irresponsible for the parties in the federal case to just do nothing and hope the judge will do nothing, too,” Mayes said, noting he would bypass tribal court due to past rulings handed down by the nation’s judiciary.

Mayes, who lives in Denton, Texas, is competing in a field of six candidates for the at-large post on the tribal council. The other candidates are Ken Luttrell, Carole Richmond, Jack D. Baker, Curtis West and Curtis Bruehl.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.