District Court refuses to dismiss challenge of 2017 Nooksack Special Election
Today, U.S. District Court Senior Judge Thomas Zilly rejected a request by Trump Interior Department officials to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the four Nooksack candidates who reportedly lost the December 2017 Nooksack Tribal Council special election.
With wide ramifications for the future of the Nooksack Tribe, Judge Zilly remarked that the "Defendants’ contention that they now cannot compel a valid election is inconsistent with and undermined by Interior’s and BIA’s previous behavior…”
In June 2018, the Nooksack candidates sued now former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and several other Trump Administration officials within the Interior Department, asking the Court for equitable relief “ordering Defendants to determine whether the special election was held in accordance with Tribal law.”
In defense against a procedural motion to dismiss filed by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2018, the candidates asked the federal court why the Interior Defendants would abruptly “decline to…interpret tribal law” when it came to the pivotal election issue of whether, in the federally monitored mail-in election, return outer envelopes containing ballots needed to be signed and postmarked in order to validate ballots.
The candidates presented proof to the court that Interior Defendants were warned on November 11, 2017 about exactly how the Holdover Council would stuff the ballot box; and that by December 2, 2017, the ballot box was stuffed with non-postmarked and non-verified replacement ballots. According to the candidates' response papers, they "also presented the BIA with proof that the Holdover Council bought votes and bribed voters, for $1,000.00, which the BIA ignored."
Judge Zilly sharply rejected the Interior Defendants' attempt to mischaracterize the relief sought from the court by the candidates, and observed that "defendants completely ignore the sequence of events leading up to the 2017 election."
In defense against the Interior Defendants’ dismissal motion, the Nooksack candidates also explained the suspicious federal sequence of events concerning the election:
“After Interior officials in Washington, D.C. and Bureau of Indian Affairs officials in Portland, Oregon, jointly adhered to an established policy of interpreting Nooksack law to determine whether the Tribal Council was validly seated, on six occasions between October 17, 2016 and January 16, 2018, the Trump Administration suddenly departed from that policy on a seventh occasion in March 2018.”
Wondering why the Trump Administration suddenly abandoned a Nooksack reconstruction plan developed over the last fifteen months of the Obama Administration, the candidates offered the Court evidence that in mid-December 2017, Interior’s then highest ranking Indian affairs official entertained a meeting with “the Holdover Council’s Beltway lobbyists, and in turn met with them by year end to discuss ‘the results of the recent Nooksack tribal election and plans for moving forward . . .’”
Judge Zilly ordered Interior Defendants to, by January 25, 2019, produce the entire administrative record that gave rise their decision to accept the December 2017 special election results and recognize a new Nooksack Tribal Council election in March 2018.