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Osage Nation Congresswoman testifies at Gorsuch Committee Hearing before Senate committee; Gorsuch has ruled in favor of Osage shareholders in past

Osage Nation Congresswoman Shannon Edwards was given five minutes to testify before the Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary on the fourth day of Judge Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing.

Edwards serves as the Tenth Circuit Representative to the 15-member American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary and the lead evaluator that considered President Trump’s nominee for the High Court. The ABA committee gave Gorsuch its highest rating of “well qualified.”

Testifying before the Senate committee on March 23 with Edwards was New Orleans-based attorney Nancy Scott Degan, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.  

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Judiciary Committee Chair, complimented everybody that sat on evaluating committees, especially evaluating committees for nominees of the Supreme Court.

“Our task was to cast a wide net and that’s what we did,” Edwards said. “We made contact with over 5,000 individuals. I personally contacted 344 and received comments from 82. The other members [of the committee] did likewise and that’s why our report is 944 pages long.”

Scott Degan said the ABA committee is made up of lawyers that represent every federal judicial circuit and they volunteer their time and put in hundreds of hours on a pro bono basis. Edwards and Scott Degan met with Gorsuch on Feb. 27 and conducted a personal interview.

The Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary evaluates the professional qualifications of each nominee to the federal courts only in terms of professional competence, integrity, judicial temperament and not philosophy, political affiliation or ideology, according to an ABA press release.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Judiciary Committee Ranking Member, said she has been reading ABA reports for 24 years and she appreciates the “fine” work they do. She asked whether the ABA committee had a chance to review documents recently submitted to the ABA committee from the Department of Justice when Gorsuch was the Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General. Scott Degan said she and Edwards sat through committee hearings and heard some of the questions asked by the committee members addressing the documents, but from what she heard she didn’t think it would change their qualification of him.

Feinstein said the documents were concerning to her because they revealed his personal thinking on “subjects of great concern,” such as torture. She wanted to know Gorsuch’s opinion on torture because as a member of the federal government he needs to meet a higher standard of personal views, a higher standard than an attorney acting on behalf of a client. She also read from the ABA committee’s report on President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, is the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He has served on that court since 1997. Garland was not considered by the Senate for confirmation nor was given a chance to testify in committee hearings.   

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime & Terrorism, asked Edwards whether she believed Gorsuch had lived a good life as a person. She said “yes.”

Gorsuch on Tribes

During Gorsuch’s third day of testimony on March 22, Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., questioned Gorsuch on his experience with tribes and sovereignty, especially when it came to jurisdictional issues between tribes, state and local governments.

“I’ve had a number of tribal cases and tribes are, as you know, sovereign nations,” he said. “And our Constitutional order affords this body considerable power in dealing with those sovereign nations, by treaty and otherwise. And out West there are all sorts of variations of that arrangement. There are classic reservations, as many people in the East conceive of them. There are also ancient Pueblos that predate this country by many hundreds of years. Then there are allotments to individuals and groups, depends where you are – that sounds like Oklahoma, Pueblos sounds like New Mexico. And then when I think of reservations I think of Utah, and some places in Colorado and Wyoming. And there are variations all throughout the American West.”

Gorsuch also mentioned the Fletcher case in his testimony to Flake. He is referring to Fletcher vs. United States (2013) when he ruled in favor of the Fletcher plaintiffs while sitting as a circuit judge for the Tenth Circuit Court. According to Gorsuch’s ruling, he said the American Indian Trust Fund Management Reform Act stipulated the federal government had a duty to provide an accounting of royalty income from oil and gas reserves held in trust and its distribution to Osage shareholders.

The Fletcher case is back before the Tenth Circuit and oral arguments were heard on March 22. A more in-depth story on that case will be in the April edition of the Osage News.

American Bar Association

The ABA’s review of Gorsuch consisted of hundreds of interviews conducted around the country with individuals who have personal knowledge of his qualifications, according to Scott Degan. In addition, teams of distinguished law school professors, attorneys, judges, all examined his legal writings (opinions, blogs, briefs, articles, etc.) for quality, clarity, knowledge of the law and analytical ability, according to an ABA news release.

“The ABA’s independent Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has evaluated the professional qualifications of nominees to the Supreme Court for more than 60 years,” ABA President Linda A. Klein said in the release. “The ABA remains uniquely qualified to review the professional qualifications of nominees and hopes to assist the Senate make as informed a decision as possible about these critically important appointments.”

The Senate Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary will vote on Gorsuch’s nomination on April 3 and the full U.S. Senate will vote later in April.

Osage Nation Congresswoman

Edwards is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and Georgetown University Law Center. She is a former law clerk to Hon. Luther Eubanks in the Western District of Oklahoma. She has worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice, and established the Osage Nation Tribal Court as its first Supreme Court Judge in over 90 years. From 1995-2008 she was a partner in the Oklahoma City law firm Monnet, Hayes, Bullis, Thompson and Edwards. Since that time, she has maintained a solo practice and since 2006 has been a member of the Osage Nation Congress. Edwards has served on all the Congressional Committees and has chaired Budget and Finance, Appropriations, Commerce and Economic Development, Education and Rules and Ethics.

Since 2010, Edwards has been an Appeals Magistrate for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Southern Plains Region. She is currently the Chief Magistrate of the Court. She also assists tribal courts throughout the Nation in assessing their processes and performance. She is a member of the American, Oklahoma and Osage County Bar Associations. She is also admitted to practice in the Northern, Eastern and Western Districts of Oklahoma and before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals and several tribal courts. Her areas of practice include trial and appellate practice, business litigation, Indian law, and insurance law.


Shannon Shaw Duty

Original Publish Date: 2017-03-23 00:00:00


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Shannon Shaw Duty
Shannon Shaw Duty

Title: Editor


Twitter: @dutyshaw

Topic Expertise: Columnist, Culture, Community

Languages spoken: English, Osage (intermediate), Spanish (beginner)

Shannon Shaw Duty, Osage from the Grayhorse District, is the editor of the award-winning Osage News, the official independent media of the Osage Nation. She is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and a master’s degree in Legal Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous Peoples Law. She currently sits on the Freedom of Information Committee for the Society of Professional Journalists. She has served as a board member for LION Publishers, as Vice President for the Pawhuska Public Schools Board of Education, on the Board of Directors for the Native American Journalists Association (now Indigenous Journalists Association) and served as a board member and Chairwoman for the Pawhuska Johnson O’Malley Parent Committee. She is a Chips Quinn Scholar, a former instructor for the Freedom Forum’s Native American Journalism Career Conference and the Freedom Forum’s American Indian Journalism Institute. She is a former reporter for The Santa Fe New Mexican. She is a 2012 recipient of the Native American 40 Under 40 from the National Center for American Indian Enterprise Development. In 2014 she helped lead the Osage News to receive NAJA's Elias Boudinot Free Press Award. The Osage News won Best Newspaper from the SPJ-Oklahoma Chapter in their division 2018-2022. Her award-winning work has been published in Indian Country Today, The Washington Post, the Center for Public Integrity, NPR, the Associated Press, Tulsa World and others. She currently resides in Pawhuska, Okla., with her husband and together they share six children, two dogs and two cats.

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