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The Rise of Tribes and the Fall of Federal Indian Law
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Two big rulings awaited from Supreme Court
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Filed Under: Law

Update: Both rulings were issued on Wednesday.
Supreme Court reverses tribal jurisdiction ruling (6/25)
Supreme Court cuts down Exxon oil spill damages (6/25)

As the U.S. Supreme Court winds down its current term, Indian Country awaits two big rulings.

Plains Commerce Bank v. Long affects tribal court jurisdiction over non-Indians. The case was heard in April and attracted a lot of attention from tribes, states and the banking industry.

Exxon v. Baker is a multi-billion case over the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Alaska Natives are among the 33,000 plaintiffs who are suing the energy giant for damages from the environmental disaster.

Rulings could be released as early as tomorrow, or on Thursday. They are among the few remaining cases the Supreme Court has yet to decide.

"The Plains Commerce Bank case is an extremely important case for tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction over predatory lending," John Dossett, the general counsel of the National Congress of American Indians, said earlier this month.

Due to its big price tag, the Exxon case is seen as equally important. A $5 billion judgment was cut down to $2.5 billion, which Exxon says it still too high.

While both cases affect Native interests, Plains Commerce was the only Indian law dispute heard this term. Since 2001, when tribes nearly every ruling, the justices have accepted a dwindling number of tribal cases.

When the justices return for the October 2008 term, they will have just one Indian law case on the docket. It is Carcieri v. Kempthorne, which challenges the ability of the Interior Department to acquire land for the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island.

Another one, however, might be added to the workload. It is Kickapoo v. Texas, an Indian gaming case whose status could have been resolved by now but the justices delayed action in order to obtain a brief from the state of Texas.

The Tribal Supreme Court Project, a joint effort of NCAI and the Native American Rights Fund, is keeping track of five other cases that could be heard in the coming term. One is US v. Navajo Nation, a breach of trust case that previously went before the justices during the 2002 term.

As for the current term, the justices declined to hear 11 Indian law cases. That's only about half of the number that were rejected in 2006, when no Indian law cases were heard at all.

Related Stories:
Supreme Court delays action on Indian gaming case (6/5)
Ruling in Plains Commerce case expected by July (6/5)
Bush seeks review of long-running Navajo trust case (5/19)
Joe Martin: Tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians (5/1)
Opinion: Disrespect at the Supreme Court (4/28)
Texas tribe presses Supreme Court on IGRA issue (4/22)
Supreme Court hears tribal jurisdiction case (4/15)
Legal Times: Italians and Indians at high court (4/15)
Supreme Court to hear jurisdiction case (4/14)
DOJ to join argument in tribal court jurisdiction case (4/3)
Bush brief backs tribal court jurisdiction (3/24)
Opinion: No tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians (3/3)
Supreme Court hears Exxon Valdez oil spill case (2/28)
Supreme Court agrees to hear tribal jurisdiction case (1/8)
Class III gaming efforts in doubt after court decision (9/24)
Appeals court blocks Class III gaming for Texas tribe (8/21)
Appeals court upholds tribal verdict in bank loan case (6/28)
Court subjects non-Indian bank to tribal laws (7/20)
Alaska Natives seek $100M for Exxon Valdez oil spill (5/2)

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