District and Supreme Court The Navajo Nation operates a two-level court system which consists of trial courts and the Navajo Nation Supreme Court. Cases begin in the trial courts. Appeals are made to the Navajo Nation Supreme Court, which is located in Window Rock, Arizona. The court handles over 90,000 cases a year. The Navajo Nation consists of seven judicial districts. Each judicial district has a district court with five or seven districts having separate family courts. The courts in Arizona are located in Tuba City, Kayenta, Chinle and Window Rock. In New Mexico, they are located in Shiprock, Crownpoint, and Ramah. Within the Ramah district, there are two satellite courts located in Canoncito and Alamo.
There seventeen authorized justices and judges in the court system, three Supreme Court Justices, and fourteen trial judges. The courts consist of research, administrative and clerical staff. In the districts, the trial judges supervises the court staff and administers the court with the help of court administrators.
The Chief Justice prepares the budget, set and implements policies, and oversees the Judicial Branch operations. Judicial Branch employees work under the Judicial Branch Personnel Policies and Procedures and the Employee Code of Ethics. Judges operate under Title Seven (7) of the Navajo Nation Code of Judicial Conduct, the Chief Justices supervision and various court rules. The Navajo Nation Judicial Branch operates on funds form the federal government and Navajo Nation general funds. The Navajo courts are independent from political influence and external pressures. Cases are deiced using evidence properly admitted by the court and by applying applicable laws. To ensure that the Navajo courts will be free from political influence and bias, the Navajo Nation Council in 1958, created a system for appointment (instead of election) of Navajo Nation judges.
Navajo Peacemaker Court
The Navajo Peacemaker Court is a system of court-annexed traditional Navajo mediation and arbitration. Navajo Peacemaking helps with civil disputes between individuals or groups; property disputes; and business disputes.
Navajo Peacemaking employs the Navajo value of K'e. Respect, responsibility and proper relationships among all people is Ke'. In peacemaking, the intended end result of achieving Ke' is Ho'zho' Nahasdlii. Ho'zho' Nahasdlii is a state achievable at the end of a difficult journey.
Peacemaking is a journey where the disputants talk thinks out, consider all matters, find solutions, and commit to abiding by an agreement they develop and sign at the conclusion. When people are assisted and guided by Peacemakers, they revive and reestablish they ability to resolve. Peacemaking is based on Navajo Ceremonialism where participants gather and establish a common goal. The goal is to help one another to heal, support one another by using peace language, and form a durable and meaningful agreement.
Peacemakers are individuals who posses a reputation for wisdom, good character and competence. They must be bilingual and have knowledge of Navajo culture, values, beliefs and traditions. After selection, Peacemakers are recognized as "officers of the court". Keep in mind, Peacemakers are not judges. They are assigned by judges and assist the judges and the Navajo Justice System.
Laws Applied in Navajo Nation Courts
The choice of statute is found in 7 N.N.C. Section 204. The Navajo common law and statutory law are the laws of preference in the Navajo courts. Otherwise, federal law is used when applicable. Lastly, state law may be applied.
Navajo common law includes the traditional ways of the Navajo People. Lawyers and advocates regularly argue Navajo common law in the Navajo courts. Navajo common law is found in books and articles on Navajo culture, as well as in Navajo court opinions. Navajo elders and teachers of Navajo culture are also sources of Navajo common law.
The statutory law of the Navajo Nation is found in the Navajo Nation Code. Legal opinions of the Navajo Nation Supreme Court and the trial courts are found in the Navajo Reporter and the Indian Law Reporter.
The Indian Civil Rights Act (a federal law) and the Navajo Nation Bill of Rights require the Navajo courts to safeguard the rights of individuals. One important right of a defendant is the right to a jury trial in criminal cases. There are other rights guaranteed to a criminal defendant by these laws.
Only members of the Navajo Nation Bar Association (NNBA) can practice in Navajo courts. To become a member, an applicant must have proper moral character, fitness, and pass an examination. There are over three hundred members of the NNBA. The membership has attorneys(law school graduates) and law advocates (non-law school graduates but with legal training).