Vincent Yazzie alleges Joe Shirley Jr. can't run again

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FARMINGTON — Former Navajo presidential candidate Vincent H. Yazzie has filed an appeal to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, challenging a quasijudicial body's decision that Joe Shirley Jr. remain a presidential candidate.

Yazzie filed the appeal on Sept. 24, and a hearing on the matter is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday at the Supreme Court's hearing room in Window Rock, Arizona.

Shirley is seeking a third term as tribal president and faces Vice President Jonathan Nez for the general election in November.

A separate grievance filed by Yazzie against Nez was dismissed on Sept. 26 by the tribe's Office of Hearings and Appeals in Window Rock.

Yazzie opposed Shirley's qualification in a Sept. 7 grievance to the OHA. He alleges Shirley, who served as president from 2003 to 2011, was violating the Navajo Election Code in running for a third term since tribal law mandates an individual serve two terms.

Joe Aguirre, a hearing officer for the agency, dismissed the complaint on Sept. 12 for insufficiency and ruled Shirley as eligible for the general election.

Aguirre wrote in his decision that Yazzie's grievance was dismissed on three grounds, including that the complaint should have been made before the candidate applications were certified in May.

As with the grievance filed in the OHA, Yazzie's appeal to the high court argues the election code sets a two-term limit for the presidential office.

Although Yazzie cited this provision, Aguirre wrote that the tribe's Supreme Court clarified the statue in 2010. The 2010 case to the high court involved an appeal filed by Shirley, who was seeking a third consecutive term as president but was disqualified by the Navajo Election Administration.

Aguirre wrote that the Supreme Court held that tribal law imposes only consecutive terms limits on the incumbent rather than a lifetime limit, and the provision requires that a two-term incumbent wait one term before seeking the presidential office again.

The one-term wait for Shirley ended in 2015, he wrote.

In Yazzie's appeal, he argues that the tribal council set the two-term limit in 1989 to limit the president's political power and influence.

The amendment was passed in response to the criminal wrongdoing by former chairman Peter MacDonald Sr., according to the appeal.

It further states that in the decision by the Supreme Court in 2010, the justices legislated from the bench, rather than interpreting and applying law.

"It is the duty of this court to administer the law as it is written, and not to make that law. To do so would amount to blatant legislating from the bench," the appeal states.

Yazzie is also asking the high court to reverse the 2010 decision.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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