Cherokee council redistricting upheld in tribal court
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The Cherokee Nation District Court upheld the constitutionality Wednesday of a Tribal Council redistricting that several councilors had challenged.
The lawsuit — in addition to challenging the constitutionality of the redistricting — referred to it as gerrymandering, alleging that the redistricting lines favor councilors who are in a majority group on the council.
The redistricting appears to jeopardize council seats held by several councilors in a minority group — and it eliminates the seat held by Councilor Buel Anglen of Sperry.
Wednesday’s decision from Cherokee Nation District Judge Bart Fite upholds the redistricting effect on Anglen, eliminating his seat when his term ends this year.
“While the actions taken against Councilman Anglen are not, in this court’s opinion fair, it cannot be said that they render the act unconstitutional, as his term ends in 2013 and he will not be deprived of seeking election in 2015 in his new district,” Fite wrote.
However, the judge found that Councilor Cara Cowan Watts’ seat should not be challenged and that she must be allowed to finish her term, which ends in 2015.
“I don’t see this as a victory,” said Cowan Watts, who is from Claremore. “This isn’t about protecting my seat. It’s about protecting the integrity of our Constitution.”
Cowan Watts said the court did not address the methods used in drawing the new council district lines, which she and the lawsuit allege were counter to a tribal Supreme Court decision.
Cowan Watts, speaking for herself and other plaintiffs Anglen, Jack D. Baker, Julia Coates and Lee Keener, all councilors, said they will be appealing the district court’s decision to the tribe’s Supreme Court.
The new districts are to go into effect with the June 22 elections for several Tribal Council seats.
Cara Cowan Watts