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Navajo Supreme Court to convene at Stanford Law School

STANFORD -- The Supreme Court of the Navajo Nation will convene in Stanford Law School's Moot Courtroom 80 at 4 p.m. Tuesday, April 25.

Chief Justice Robert Yazzie and Associate Justices Wayne Cadman and Raymond D. Austin will hear oral arguments in a case brought by several schools against the Navajo Nation. Following the arguments, the officers of the court will take questions from the audience, which will include Stanford law students.

Austin, who is currently the Phleger Visiting Professor of Law at the Law School, said this is the fourth time the Navajo Nation's highest appeals court has held a session outside its usual courtroom in Window Rock, Ariz., and the first time it has been to the San Francisco Bay Area. The purpose is to educate law students, lawyers and others to the workings of the court, which follows procedures similar to those of the U.S. federal and state courts. Decisions, however, are based on centuries- old Navajo customary law.

The particular case to be argued, Rough Rock Community School v. Navajo Nation, involves several schools that claim they are privately incorporated under state laws and should not have to follow Navajo Nation election law in choosing members of their governing boards. The schools receive federal funds from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs and are located in the Navajo Nation, which is about the size of West Virginia and is located within three states -- Arizona, Utah and New Mexico.

The Navajo Judicial Branch, which is often referred to as the most sophisticated American Indian judicial system, has approximately 90,000 pending cases at its various levels, Austin said.

Austin, who is teaching a course at Stanford this quarter on "Native American Common Law and Legal Institutions," also has scheduled a public demonstration at 4 p.m. Tuesday, May 9, in Kresge Auditorium of an alternative form of dispute resolution known as "peacemaking." About 20 students from his class have been assigned roles for the demonstration, which include a peacemaker, who is traditionally someone in the community who is broadly regarded for his or her wisdom; the disputing parties; their relatives; and elders from the community. Peacemaking is a more emotional reconciliation process, Austin said, which involves the giving of advice to disputing parties, who then must make their own decisions.

The court session is sponsored by the Navajo Nation Judicial Branch and the Stanford Law School. Both events will be hosted by the Native American Law Students Association.



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