Tribal officials worked tirelessly to formulate a constitution to fit the needs of a modern Chickasaw society

In 1979, the Department of Interior and a federal district court approved a draft of a new Chickasaw Constitution. It was ratified by a 92 percent vote of all Chickasaws voting. However, in 1981, a federal court ruled that the Chickasaw’s 1867 Constitution, while outdated and impractical, had never been invalidated by Congress. The court asked for a letter detailing the fundamental differences between the two constitutions and asked for a new constitution to be written and approved by tribal members.

Two factions emerged within the nation. Governor James led the group supporting the 1979 constitution, while Charles Tate, an Ardmore attorney, led the group advocating the 1867 version.

In March 1983, the two sides agreed to seven fundamental differences that would be submitted for a vote including the length of the governor’s term, term limits for elected and appointed positions, whether to have a lieutenant governor and if salaries should be set by the legislature or governor, blood quantum requirements for executive branch, the location of the seat of government, and the election of tribal judges.

Governor James’s side got the majority of what they wanted; the new Constitution was ratified on August 27, 1983. As before, the new Constitution established a three-branch system.