An upcoming State Bar of Arizona program explores the continued barriers to Native American electoral participation.

An upcoming State Bar of Arizona program explores the continued barriers to Native American electoral participation.

Still unsure what barriers prevent or dissuade Native American participation in the electoral process? As we head into election season, the barriers to exercising the franchise—and progress eradicating those barriers—will be addressed in a Phoenix program on Thursday, October 20.

Titled “Political Buy-In: A Look at the Barriers to (and) Participation of Native Americans in Tribal, State and Federal Elections,” organizers at the State Bar of Arizona describe it this way:

“This program will examine both the advances in Native American participation in all levels of elections and the continued barriers to effective participation in the election process. Participants can expect to gain a broad overview of how redistricting efforts, voter ID laws, and language barriers continue to marginalize Native Americans at the polls. The program will also look at possible changes to Native American participation at the federal level.”

A public radio program this week illustrates just how basic some of those barriers can be. In this story, journalist Carrie Jung spoke with Native Americans who face clear and existential obstacles to participating in elections.

Among those barriers are language challenges; traveling large distances, perhaps without a car; and even obtaining a voter ID when you have no formal address.

As Lori Riddle told Jung, “We’re used to giving directions out here by landmarks. There’s a tree. There’s two trees. There’s a big bush with purple flowers on it. [Poll workers have] tried to turn me away on a few occasions, even though they knew me.”

Among the topics to be discussed at the October 20 seminar are:

  • Voting Accessibility Act
  • Voter treatment in the polling places
  • Current lobbying trends in Native American Country
  • Implications of lack of early access voting for Native American voters
  • Constitutional guarantees

Panelists will be:

  • Heather Sibbison, Dentons LLP, Washington, DC
  • Patty Ferguson-Bohnee, ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
  • James T. Tucker, Armstrong Teasdale LLP, Las Vegas, NV
  • Mary O’Grady, Osborn Maledon PA, Phoenix

The seminar chair will be Virjinya Torrez, Assistant Attorney General for the Tohono O’odham Nation.

You can register here.

If you’re wondering why all this still matters in 2016, Patty Ferguson-Bohnee breaks it down as she speaks to KJZZ’s Carrie Jung:

“We’re the first people of the United States. And when people face these roadblocks, sometimes they’re not empowered. And we want to empower people. We’re a democracy.”

Speaker photos are below (click to enlarge).

Mary O'Grady

Today, we learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled to uphold Arizona’s legal sanctions against employers in the immigration context. Yesterday, a former Arizona Solicitor General gave insight into that case and into the broader topic of arguing your case at the nation’s highest court.

Mary O’Grady spoke to a luncheon group assembled in downtown Phoenix as part of the monthly gathering of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association. Now a partner at Osborn Maledon, O’Grady described the heady experience of preparing a case and advocating it to the Justices. Her Wednesday presentation demonstrated the personal and professional challenges that a lawyer faces in that chamber.

Years ago, the first case that she reviewed as a new Solicitor General was a challenge to the state’s law on same-sex marriage. That special action in the Court of Appeals was a snapshot of the approach her office took to matters, controversial or not.

“Policy issues weren’t our deal,” O’Grady said. “And I never asked assistant AGs ‘Who feels strongly about this case?’ Our job is a legal one.”

That’s not to say that she never heard from AGs who felt they could not advocate a position due to moral or philosophical beliefs. Those concerns would be aired and usually granted.

O’Grady laughed as she described the SG’s Office as “a public defender for laws.”

“Our job is to give our laws the best defense possible, and to help the judges do the best possible job.”

She acknowledged that parties sometimes get very nervous at the prospect of having the Attorney General’s Office (in which the SG is housed) handle “their case.” Those parties sometimes seek to intervene, primarily to tell the court that “they can’t trust the Attorney General’s Office.”

But that sometimes has served cases well, she said. Positions like that may lead the court to see the state’s position as more middle of the road and not a “zealot.” And hearing from those passionate advocates on both sides helps the AG see the matter clearly, “without blind spots.”

O’Grady marched the audience through a case’s progress up through the courts, at each step describing the challenges the SG faces.

Politics and media coverage are most intense at the district court level. There, she and others in her office developed “an art form” of exiting the courthouse with minimal contact with media, protestors and other possible interrogators.

By the time your case is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court, an advocate can anticipate a unique experience: the polite telephone call from NPR’s Nina Totenberg.

“That conversation is really almost a moot court in itself,” O’Grady said.

At all levels of the case, though, one thing is constant: Even in a packed and contentious courtroom, once the case starts, the lawyers on both sides just go to work, “and the noise stops, as it should be.”

O’Grady described the progress of the employer-sanctions law challenge in more detail.

As it prepares its Supreme Court case, the state always hopes that the United States Solicitor General will stake out a position that aligns with the state. In employer-sanctions, though, the USSG took no position. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court said it wanted to hear from the USSG on the question.

That led to an appearance before the USSG, then Elena Kagan, and her chief deputy, Neal Katyal (now the Interim SG). One by one, the Arizona advocates and any others that Kagan’s office invited filed into the USSG’s conference room and presented their positions. Months later, they learned that the USSG would not support the Arizona position (though the Supreme Court did support it today).

Among that substantive step in the process and others—like a multitude of moot courts in Arizona and in Washington—O’Grady described some of the more mundane obstacles an advocate faces.

One of those obstacles is “managing reserve seats” for the Supreme Court argument. Keeping a wide variety of family members happy with a guaranteed seat is hard enough, she said. But it is unnerving to hear on the eve of what may be your career’s biggest argument that “Russell Pearce doesn’t have a seat, and he needs one.” Shuffling and reorganizing had to ensue.

“As I prepared for the argument,” O’Grady mused, “I had a bad thought. I knew Russell Pearce would be in the front row, and I couldn’t help but think about Kanye West yanking the microphone away from Taylor Swift.” As it turned out, all went well on that score.

Other challenges included having a colleague reassure her by saying, “Don’t worry, Mary, everyone I talk to believes we’ll lose 8-0!” (They won, 5-3.)

She also had to beseech her politically opinionated sister to not speak to the assembled luminaries about controversial topics—or anything—as she sat feet away from them in the Court.

Ultimately, O’Grady was peppered with 40 questions in her 30 minutes. And then it was done.

She finished her talk to the AWLA with two personal observations, which resonated with the woman lawyers in the room (aside from Court of Appeals Judge Donn Kessler and this correspondent, no other men were present).

O’Grady pointed out that moot court required her to spend about a week in Washington DC in the time leading up to the argument. “And as a working mom, I liked going to DC and checking into a hotel alone for a week!”

Finally, she smiled as she told the group about her daughter’s reaction to seeing her mom argue before the Justices. As they left the Court, the young girl’s sole comment was “Where’s lunch?” But her subsequent Facebook post was far more evocative:

“Just left court, Mom did great. She showed Justice Breyer who’s boss.”

More information on the Arizona Women Lawyers Association is here. And, no, you don’t have to be a woman to join.

Lawyers, even those who are unlikely to appear at the Supreme Court, enjoy hearing from those who have done just that.

I count myself in that group of interested onlookers. In the past, Arizona Attorney Magazine has published the war stories of many lawyers who have stood at that podium and sought justice in their cases. Read the stories here and here.

Today at lunch, we get another opportunity to hear from someone who has advocated at the highest levels of our court system. Mary O’Grady, former Arizona Solicitor General, will speak on the topic of “Defending Arizona’s Controversial Laws in the Nation’s Highest Court.”

The event will be the monthly luncheon of the Arizona Women Lawyers Association. Here is their press release:

Regardless of your position on Arizona’s employer sanctions law, you won’t want to miss hearing from the woman who defended its constitutionality before the U.S. Supreme Court last December.  As Solicitor General for the State of Arizona for nine years, from 2002 until last March, Mary O’Grady was responsible for leading Arizona’s defense in lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of some of the most controversial laws in the country.  She has defended the constitutionality of state laws on such subjects as same-sex marriage, school choice, campaign finance, school finance and immigration.

Mary will discuss her approach to dealing with this type of litigation, including her experiences overseeing the work on 10 cases on the merits before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Most recently, last December, Mary argued before the nation’s highest court the case of Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, the lawsuit challenging the state’s employer sanctions law as unconstitutional.  That law allows for the suspension or revocation of business licenses of companies that knowingly hire undocumented workers. It also requires Arizona employers to use the federal E-Verify system to validate Social Security numbers and the immigration status of new hires.  It has been upheld by the U.S. District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mary now works as an attorney at Osborn Maledon.  She began her legal career at Lewis and Roca, and she also worked as an attorney in the Arizona House of Representatives before joining the Solicitor General’s Office in 1999. She has three children.