Alabama submits opening brief in Poarch Creek casino dispute

The Wind Creek Wetumpka gaming facility in Wetumpka, Alabama. Photo from Facebook

The state of Alabama is trying to convince a federal appeals court that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians operates an illegal gaming enterprise.

In an opening brief to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, attorney general Luther Strange claims the tribe's gaming facilities are not located on "Indian lands." He is citing the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar and the more recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California.

In Carcieri, the Supreme Court held that tribes that weren't "under federal jurisdiction" as of 1934 can't follow the land-into-trust process. The Poarch Creeks gained federal recognition in 1984.

In Big Lagoon, the 9th Circuit held that a state can challenge the status of lands that were placed in trust long ago. The Poarch Creek gaming sites were acquired in 1984, 1992 and 1995.

"To be sure, the United States recognized the Poarch Band of Creek Indians as a tribe in June of 1984, and the Secretary of the Interior has purported to hold certain lands in trust on the Tribe’s behalf in the years since 1984," the brief states. "But, unless the Poarch Band was 'under federal jurisdiction' as of 1934, the Secretary has no power to 'hold' the Poarch Band’s landholdings in trust such that they would be 'Indian lands.'"

Supporting Alabama in the dispute are a group of states led by Michigan, whose attorney general Bill Schuette just lost the Supreme Court decision in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community. The justices determined that he could not sue the tribe for activities that do not occur on "Indian lands," as that term is defined in the the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

Nevertheless, Schuette and his fellow attorneys general in Arizona, Kansas, South Dakota and Utah say they should be able to sue tribes for allegedly engaging in illegal gaming activities.

Turtle Talk has posted the opening briefs from the case, Alabama v. PCI Gaming. The tribe's brief has not yet been filed.

Related Stories:
Opinion: Poarch Creeks use gaming revenue to buy state office (05/23)
Attorney general claims Poarch Band funds tied to casino suit (05/12)
Alabama vows speedy appeal in Poarch Creek gaming litigation (4/14)

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