A Cherokee Nation employee filed a lawsuit this week seeking to overturn an election law that prohibits her and others from competing in tribal elections without surrendering their jobs.
Muskogee lawyer John Tyler Hammons, who worked as an assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation before entering private practice in 2017, said he believes the law infringes rights guaranteed by the tribe's constitution. He said his client, Rebekah Scott, would seek elective office herself "but for this unconstitutional requirement."
“Unfortunately, the unconstitutional practice of discriminating against Cherokee employees has gone unchallenged for decades," Hammons said. "For far too long, the dedicated employees of my tribe have been forced to choose between their right to run for office and their ability to earn a living wage. This must stop.”
In a petition filed Tuesday in Cherokee Nation District Court, Scott alleges the Tribal Council exceeded its legislative authority "by imposing requirements for candidates ... which are more stringent than the requirements mandated by the Cherokee Nation Constitution." Her lawyers allege the Tribal Council's authority to adopt laws is limited to those determined "necessary and proper for the good of the Cherokee Nation" so long as they "are not contrary to the Cherokee Nation Constitution itself."
"The Act unconstitutionally forces the Petitioner to choose between her inalienable right to seek elective office and her inalienable right to continued employment with the Cherokee Nation," Hammons alleges in the petition. "The Act exceeds the Tribal Council's legislative powers by imposing requirements for elective office which are more stringent than the requirements imposed by the Cherokee Nation Constitution."
Hammons, a founding partner of Hammons Hamby & Price, said the prohibition has been a common complaint he has heard for years. Jeremy K. Hamby, who worked four years as an assistant attorney general for the tribe, said he knows "firsthand the frustration many Cherokee Nation employees feel when they are not allowed to exercise their constitutional right to seek elective office while remaining employed."
“I’ve spent most of my adult career as an employee of the Cherokee Nation,” said Hamby, who worked for Cherokee Nation Child Welfare Services before attending law school. "I am proud to fight this fight for all Cherokee Nation employees."
Scott is asking the court to review the law, declare the offending provisions unconstitutional, and issue an injunction that would prevent the Cherokee Nation Election Commission from enforcing the prohibition.