9th Circuit takes up Big Lagoon Rancheria gaming land dispute

An aerial view of the Big Lagoon Rancheria in northern California. Image from Google Maps

UPDATE: Audio from today's en banc hearing can be found on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud. The hearing lasted an about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

All eyes are on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today for a closely-watched Indian gaming case that could impact tribes throughout the nation.

An en banc panel of the court is rehearing Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California. The outcome will determine whether the Big Lagoon Rancheria can pursue a casino on land that was placed in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1994.

The status of the 11-acre site was never in doubt until the tribe accused the state of negotiating a Class III gaming compact in bad faith. At that point, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar came into play.

The decision restricts the land-into-trust process to tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" as of 1934. By a vote of 2-1 this January, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit held that the Big Lagoon Rancheria did not meet that test.

"Carcieri holds that the BIA’s authority to take lands in trust for a tribe extends only to tribes under federal jurisdiction in 1934. Thus, the effect of our conclusion that Big Lagoon is not such a tribe is that Big Lagoon cannot demand negotiations to conduct gaming on the eleven-acre parcel, and cannot sue to compel negotiations if the state fails to negotiate in good faith," the court wrote at the time.

The ruling prompted tribes, tribal organizations and the Department of Justice to push for a rehearing out of fear that it will lead to more litigation over trust land acquisitions that were finalized years ago. The 9th Circuit agreed to take a second look and, noting the significance of the case, will broadcast oral arguments this morning at 10am Pacific time.

"En banc courts are used to resolve intra-circuit case conflicts and legal questions deemed by the court to be of exceptional importance," the 9th Circuit said in a press release. "Less than 20 cases per year typically receive en banc review."

The Big Lagoon Rancheria and the state of California will each get 30 minutes to argue their case, according to the 9th Circuit's calendar. To watch the hearing, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQv67ol2wFk or www.ca9.uscourts.gov/media/view_video.php?pk_vid=0000006557

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California.

Oral Arguments in Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California:

Original 9th Circuit Decision:
Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California (January 21, 2014)

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