The Third Osage Nation Congress confirmed Meredith Drent for the ON Supreme Court Chief Justice position on Sept. 12. She is the Nation’s second Chief Justice for the High Court and will serve a two-year term.
Drent was appointed as Supreme Court Associate Justice when the 2006 reformed government launched and she was retained by popular vote in the 2010 General Election. Drent (Osage) fills the Chief Justice seat after her predecessor, Charles Lohah, stepped down due to health reasons earlier this year.
Principal Chief John Red Eagle appointed Drent to the Chief Justice seat subject to Congressional confirmation.
During her confirmation interview with Congress, Drent said: “The court is still in its developmental stages, there are still many, many opportunities for the tribe and for the community to experience the court. I hope I have this opportunity to move this court forward, build on the foundation that Chief Justice Lohah had set and develop a court that is responsive to the community, that distributes justice to those who come before it, to apply the laws and rules of the Osage Nation… I really hope that we have a good relationship, this is not a one-branch show. For the court to work properly, we need the input of the executive (branch), we need the input of Congress, we’re going to need your help and support.”
Congresswoman Maria Whitehorn asked Drent how she interpreted “the relationship between the 1906 Act as inserted in the Osage Nation Constitution and if you see any conflict or problem between the two to the detriment of the Osage people.”
In her response, Drent said: “I do not see a conflict between the two. Now because this is such a unique situation where we have this federal legislation, we have a tribal government that was created by the people themselves. I think there is a balance that must be struck. We have to be responsive to the 1906 Act because that is a governing law that we are all bound by. So we want to be able to take a look at that particular law, what issues it impacts, and we want to take a look at the tribe’s laws itself and then figure out where does the law take us and that is ultimately where the court’s goal is to go where the law takes it.”
Whitehorn also asked if the Nation lacks laws impacting the tribal court’s judicial process, to which Drent responded: “yes,” stating a lack of laws to help process cases in a timely manner could cause a backlog of cases going through the judicial process. “A person should be able to come before the court and feel that the court met its needs and the court was responsive,” Drent said.
Several other Congress members praised Drent for her experience, talent and interest in giving back to the Osage community. “She’s an example to me and we need to encourage that and to respect the movement she’s making,” said Congressman Geoffrey Standing Bear.
Congressional Speaker Raymond Red Corn said the Legislative Branch would be receptive to suggestions from Drent and other Judicial Branch representatives to create laws for a better judicial process. Later during the Sept. 12 session, Congress unanimously confirmed Drent as Supreme Court Chief Justice.
Born in Pawhuska, Drent is a graduate of the Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and an alumna of its nationally-recognized Indian Legal Program. Her experience includes several years of practice with various California-based law firms specializing exclusively in Indian Law.
The Osage Nation Supreme Court has considered only one case since it was established in 2006. The case concerned the constitutionality of the 2008 Independent Press Act in which then-Principal Chief Jim Gray sued the First Osage Nation Congress, citing injury from the law before the law was adopted. The case was brought before the Osage High Court in August of 2009.
The Supreme Court ruled against Gray, reversed the lower court’s opinion and said that Gray or any subsequent chief does not have the right to sue the Osage Nation Congress over the constitutionality of a law without successfully showing an injured party. Drent wrote and delivered the opinion in December of 2009.