The Osage Nation Supreme Court has decided its first case and has ruled in favor of the Osage Nation Congress.
“We’re delighted,” said Osage Nation Congressional Speaker Archie Mason. “I know that it was a first time experience, a historic event as well for the Supreme Court to render their first decision and again, it was just a good feeling to be a part of something for the first time and we in congress are just elated and feel very good that the court ruled in our favor and we’ll proceed from there.”
The Supreme Court, in its 12-page opinion filed Dec. 11, didn’t rule on the constitutionality of the Independent Press Act of 2008, but whether or not Osage Nation Principal Chief Jim Gray, or any subsequent chief, has the right to sue the Osage Nation Congress over the constitutionality of a law without successfully showing an injured party. The Supreme Court ruled he did not, reversed the decision of the lower court and gave instructions to the lower court to dismiss Gray’s suit for lack of jurisdiction. The opinion, delivered by Supreme Court Justice Meredith Drent, came nearly four months after the Supreme Court met for the first time August 19. The Supreme Court has three justices; Drent, Chief Justice Charles Lohah and Justice Jeanine Logan.
Gray alleged that by being forced to sign the Independent Press Act he would be “violating his oath by executing a law he believes is unconstitutional.” Such an injury, according to the opinion, is institutional in nature to the office of the chief and was not a personal injury. The opinion also said that Gray doesn’t decide what laws are constitutional, that power is vested in the judiciary.
“To allow the type of injury alleged by Chief Gray to be judicially cognizable would be to authorize the Principal Chief, and conceivably any member of the Executive branch, to refuse to execute, administer or enforce a law because they believed the law was unconstitutional, without asserting more,” according to the opinion. “It would open the doors to any member of the Executive to file a claim requesting an opinion on the constitutionality of any given law.”
Gray alleged in his suit, filed July 14, 2008, ONCA 08-07 the Independent Press Act, written by Congresswoman Faren Anderson and passed into law by the congress after a veto override, attempted to regulate the structure and the content of the Osage News and that the act would also leave the Osage News subject to legislative control through its appropriation power. The lower court ruled in favor of the chief and ruled the act null and void.
Congressional Speaker Archie Mason filed an appeal seven days after the judgment was made, followed the court’s rules of filing an appeal and filed a Post-Judgment Motion to Intervene and the motion was denied by the trial court as untimely filed. Mason then filed an Amended Petition in Error to include the court’s denial of the motion to intervene as grounds for appeal. According to the Supreme Court opinion, Mason had 30 days to file the appeal, and having done so seven days after the judgment was made, filed in a timely manner. The Supreme Court’s opinion instructed the lower court to reverse the lower court’s denial of his appeal.
“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to adopt the use of ‘standing’ and ‘case and controversy’ doctrines. These legal requirements have been developed over many years and many cases by federal and state courts as a means of reducing their case loads,” Gray said in a statement. “It was my hope that our court would play a larger initial role in resolving conflicts and defining the authority of the branches of our newly reorganized constitutional government.”
What does this mean for the Osage News?
Since the lower court’s ruling has been reversed, the Independent Press Act has been made into law and establishes an Editorial Board that will be made up of three qualified journalists. The law dictates that the principal chief will appoint a member to the board; the congress appoints one member to the board and the two appointed will select the third. The board will also have the job of appointing an editor for the Osage News.
The Supreme Court’s opinion did not address whether or not ONCA 08-07 was constitutional but said that the Editorial Board or a member of the Osage News staff could seek recourse if they feel the newspaper’s independence is in jeopardy.
“In the future, should such an event occur, the newspaper may have the opportunity to seek recourse,” said the opinion. “Similarly, there could be available recourse to address constitutional defects in the Act should the newspaper’s editorial board or staff find that it impairs or infringes on the newspaper’s independence.”