Shawna Baker, a John Brown University alumna, was appointed to the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court on Aug. 27. Baker is the third woman to serve on the court.
Baker earned her undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry at JBU. As a first-generation student, Baker fondly remembered her experiences at JBU. “My best memories of JBU are the people that touched my life and left a lasting mark,” Baker said. “Lauren O’Hare, a JBU alumna, was the then acting director of admissions and financial aid. She has been a constant source of kindness, encouragement and support while I was at JBU, throughout law school and even as I began my professional career,” Baker said. Baker also recognized Dr. Seward, a biology professor while Baker attended JBU, and her faculty advisor. “He genuinely cared for each student. He conveyed information with ease and humor. Every morning in the science building began with his welcome greeting and every afternoon ended with his salutation,” Baker said.
Baker was drawn to study law after she learned about the assassination of Medgar Evers, a World War II veteran and American civil rights activist. “I desire to help those around me, especially the underprivileged and underserved communities,” Baker continued. “Having a strong scientific background is an asset. It helps me identify problems and more importantly, process facts in order to find solutions.”
Following graduation at JBU, Baker attended the University of Tulsa College of Law. She graduated with a Juris Doctorate and Master of Science in 2002. She practiced law in Tulsa until 2006, when she moved to New York and worked toward a Master of Law from Columbia Law School. Afterward, “I accepted a law school professorship in estate planning and trial practice skills and moved to Jacksonville, Florida, until I returned to private practice in 2010,” Baker said. In 2015, Baker earned a Master of Law in Taxation from New York University School of Law.
Baker had been nominated to the court in 2018, but the Tribal Council tabled her nomination and cited lack of experience with Indian law, according to the Tahlequah Daily Press. However, during this nomination, the council found Baker “supremely qualified,” Principle Chief Chuck Hoskin, Jr., said. Baker was confirmed 13-4.
The Cherokee Nation is the largest federally-recognized tribe in the United States with over 300,000 registered members. The Supreme Court has five members and hears issues of civil and criminal nature upon appeal from lower District Courts.
On July 9, the United States Supreme Court ruled on McGirt v. Oklahoma, which ruled that the state of Oklahoma does not have the jurisdiction to criminally prosecute tribal members for crimes committed within tribal boundaries. “As such, the number of criminal cases prosecuted by the Cherokee Nation will increase and so, too, the number of criminal appeals making their way to the Supreme Court,” Baker said when asked about some of the biggest issues facing the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court.
Baker’s appointment is encouraging to women who are deciding to study law, especially as more women than ever decide to do so. In 2016, the New York Times reported that, for the first time, women made up a majority of law students. Further, Senate hearings for President Trump’s Supreme Court nomination, Amy Coney Barrett, are in-process this week, potentially nominating the fifth woman to the U.S. Supreme Court. In the words of the late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Women belong in all places where decisions are being made.”