Supreme Court: The 2000-2001 Term
MARCH 6, 2001
The Supreme Court will be busy in upcoming months discussing
Indian law issues,
having accepted a number of cases affecting
tribes throughout Indian Country.
So far, they've decided on one such case and on Monday
ruled that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
doesn't exempt a number of documents relating
to the Department of Interior's trust responsibilities.
ruling a warning of things to come?
Today, we're taking a look at the future Indian
law cases before the Court to get a glimpse of
some of the issues which lie ahead.
Tribal Sovereign Immunity
In oral arguments scheduled for March 19, the Court will
hear a contractual dispute between a construction company
and the Citizen Potawatomi
Nation of Oklahoma. C&L Enterprises argues the tribe
waived its sovereign immunity but the tribe disagrees.
The Court has previously addressed the general
aspects of sovereign immunity
but will now consider under what circumstances it might
be waived by a tribe. The contract was executed on non-trust
land for construction on a property on non-trust land and didn't directly
address the issue of sovereign immunity. Instead, it
subjected the tribe to binding arbitration, which the
Court may or may not agree constitutes a waiver.
Several states have filed briefs supporting C&L.
The United States and the San Manuel Band of
Serrano Mission Indians filed briefs in support of
Get the Story: Supreme
Court to consider immunity (10/31)
Taxation By Tribes
In a case which could have a dramatic impact throughout
Indian Country, the Court on March 27 will decide if
a tribe has a right to tax a non-Indian business on
non-Indian owned land located within a reservation.
Atkinson Trading Post in Arizona has refused to collect
an 8 percent hotel lodging tax the Navajo Nation has imposed on
businesses. The company says the tribe has no
authority over its actions with non-Indian customers
but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.
A number of tribes have similar taxes which the 9th
Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down. The Supreme
Court could end up resolving the dispute once and for all.
A number of states, private
industries, and anti-treaty rights organizations -- including
Proper Economic Resource Management (PERM) -- have filed
briefs in support of Atkinson.
Several tribes have filed briefs in support of
the Navajo Nation. One of Atkinson's legal counsel is
Steptoe & Johnson, a Washington, Dc, law firm.
Get the Story: Supreme
Court to take on taxation (11/28) |
fate may rest in decision (11/28)
Taxation Of Tribes
Arguments have yet to be scheduled for
a taxation dispute between the United States and
the Choctaw Nation and Chickasaw Nation.
Both tribes have refused to pay gaming taxes
on pull-tabs they sell, arguing they are exempt from
wagering excise taxes and federal occupational taxes.
States are exempt but the Court has never considered
the tribal issue.
The tribes have been ordered to pay the taxes by
the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. As of 1997, the Chickasaw Nation owed about $42,000 dollars while the Choctaw
Nation owed almost $153,000.
No friend-of-the-court briefs have yet been reported filed by
Get the Story: Supreme
Court accepts taxation case (01/23) |
tribes told to pay pull-tab taxes (04/06)
States' Rights and Tribes
In arguments scheduled for March 21, the Court
will decide if state officials are immune from suit
in tribal court.
Floyd Hicks, a member of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribe,
filed suit against four Nevada game officials for alleged violations of
his civil rights. His home on tribal land was searched
at least twice but no evidence was ever found to show
Hicks broke state game law.
Hicks eventually sued the officials in tribal court, but
the state asserted the tribal court had no jurisdiction over
state officials. They also said the officials had sovereign
immunity. Two courts have
so far disagreed and the state appealed.
Almost 20 states have filed a brief in support of
Nevada. The United States and several tribes have filed
briefs in support of the tribe.
Get the Story: Supreme Court
to hear tribal court challenge (Tribal Law 10/11)
States' Rights and Tribes, Part II
In arguments scheduled for April 23, the Court will
hear an appeal by the state of Idaho who claims it
owns the entire Lake Coeur d'Alene.
Two courts, however, have ruled that the
Coeur d'Alene Tribe has ownership of just
the southern third. The
Court previously rejected this case due to state sovereign
immunity but the
United States entered the dispute in support of the tribe,
forcing the lower courts to address the issue.
Idaho now argues a Supreme Court decision affecting
"submerged lands" in Alaska gives them ownership to
the entire lake.
Several states and two counties in Idaho have filed
briefs supporting this position.
Get the Story:
to rule on lake ownership (12/13)
The Supreme Court may or may not accept an appeal
filed by the state of Connecticut and three towns who
oppose a decision made by the Department of Interior
to take 165 acres of land into trust for
the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation.
Among other claims, the state says the 1934 Indian
Reorganization Act (IRA) does not apply to the tribe
because it wasn't federally recognized at the time of its
passage. The Act gives the Secretary of Interior
the power to take land into trust for federally recognized tribes.
The Second Circuit Court of Appeals last fall decided
in favor of the Interior, reversing a federal court decision.
Get the Story: State
joins Pequot appeal (11/29) |
Towns to appeal
Pequot ruling (11/07)
The Supreme Court -
The Supreme Court Justices, a Washington Post Guide -