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Indigenous rights law firm to file supportive briefs

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 21, 2009) – A group that includes former House Speaker Oscar Rasa is joining the CNMI government's lawsuit against federalization, with the help of a local law firm that has agreed to provide its legal services for free.

The O'Connor law firm had approached the CNMI Descents For Self Government and Indigenous Rights, offering its services to the group in filing a motion to support the lawsuit filed by Gov. Benigno R. Fitial against the federal government.

Former House Speaker Oscar Rasa, the official spokesman and adviser of the group, said that he met with the O'Connor lawyers yesterday where they agreed to participate in the lawsuit.

In an interview with Saipan Tribune yesterday, lawyer Robert O'Connor said that they are going to file a brief of amicus curiae in the next 10 days supporting the CNMI lawsuit.

"We want to be involved because we think that the federalization law violates the Covenant and takes away our rights to self-government," O'Connor said.

Amicus curiae (friends of the court) refers to someone not a party to a case who offers information on a point of law or some other aspect of a case to assist the court in deciding an issue or issues. It is, however, the court's discretion whether to accept the volunteered information.

Rasa said the filing intends to amplify more arguments and issues than had previously been presented. He said it would help the court in assessing fundamental issues and present it with more angles to look at when deciding the case.

"The administration's arguments rely heavily on the potential economic harm that the federalization law will bring about, and this is why the U.S. said that the argument is hypothetical. However, we feel that there is a more fundamental issue here-the right to self-government as embodied in the Covenant," said Rasa.

"The issue of self-government is more fundamental than the economic issues," he added.

O'Connor echoed this, saying the right to self-government given to all the people of the CNMI by the U.S. government is the most valuable right the people have.

O'Connor said the federalization law passed in Washington, D.C.-"without any input from any elected congressman or senator"-is disastrous for the CNMI's economy and takes away the Commonwealth's right to self-government.

"The decision on that law was made by senators from Delaware [and] by congressmen from Idaho, none of whom we elect, none of whom give a damn about what any people here think," the lawyer said.

He said CNMI didn't have any congressman or senator who could debate the bill, offer amendments, or horse trade something that Idaho or Delaware wanted in return for something the Northern Marianas wanted.

"So we're pretty much in the situation that the colonists were back in 1770s when England was passing laws that drastically affected the economy of the colonies," O'Connor said.

"If you can't control your economy, you have no self-government," he added.

Saipan Tribune

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