Lawsuit filed over Cherokee Nation redistricting

By Jarrel Wade
Tulsa, Oklahoma (AP) September 2012

Several Cherokee Nation tribal councilors filed a lawsuit against the tribe, alleging that councilors in the majority gerrymandered voter district lines to favor their side of the split council.

The lawsuit, filed in Cherokee Nation court, claims that the council approved voter redistricting in July based on unfairly drawn districts to favor certain councilors.

Councilors who voted for the approved map argued at the July meeting that the map was legally drawn based on population and that alternative maps should have been brought forward and argued for during earlier committee meetings.

The Tribal Council as a whole filed its own request last week for the court to interpret the law regarding the district lines passed in July.

“That legal action, which will completely resolve all legal issues was filed earlier this month,” Councilor Chuck Hoskin Jr. said.

“In view of the council’s action last week, Councilor (Cara) Cowan Watts’ lawsuit serves no purpose.”

A previous court judgment required the redistricting to change the Cherokee Nation council districts from a five-district map with three councilors per district to a one-councilor-per-district map with 15 districts.

According to the latest lawsuit, the council is frequently split between a majority party and a minority party - illustrated by the 10 councilors who voted for the map and the seven who voted against it.

Hoskin is one of the leaders of the majority party referenced in the lawsuit; Cowan Watts is the leader of the minority party.

Referencing the approved map, the lawsuit alleges that newly drawn lines favor Councilors Tina Glory Jordan, Joe Byrd, David Walkingstick, Frankie Hargis and Jodie Fishinghawk, who are in the majority group and live close to other districts.

Meanwhile, several seats held by minority members are jeopardized - possibly eliminating one seat and forcing two other councilors to run against one another before their terms are finished, according to the lawsuit.

“The idea that there is a split in the council is irrelevant from a legal standpoint,” Hoskin said.

“The courts must decide whether the council drew district lines using valid data. ... I am confident we did so.”

Several councilors disagreed, claiming in the lawsuit that their positions on the council are being attacked by the majority party.

Councilors Buel Anglen, Jack D. Baker, Julia Coates, Lee Keener and Cowan Watts are listed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“I think part of the issue is that we came out of a difficult and hard-fought chief’s race in 2011,” Hoskin said. “Anytime an incumbent chief executive is unseated and a new legislative leadership emerges, as was the result of the last election, there will be some hard feelings and a period of adjustment.”