Supreme Court delays action on Seneca Nation gaming land case

The Seneca Nation owns and operates the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, New York. Photo from Facebook

The U.S. Supreme Court failed to take action on a long-running Indian gaming case on Monday.

Without comment, the justices delayed their consideration of the petition in Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County v. Chaudhuri, according to the docket sheet. The case had been listed for a closed-door conference last Thursday but there is no explanation why it has been put off.

But the change in schedule could be attributed to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Since his passing in February, the court has slowed slowed the pace at which it has accepted new cases, possibly in an attempt to avoid tie votes in controversial matters.

"The Court has not been granting many cases recently," attorney Amy Howe wrote on the influential SCOTUSBlog earlier in the day.

In this situation, a grant would not necessarily favor the Seneca Nation of New York. Although the tribe isn't a party to the case, opponents have long been claiming that the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo doesn't qualify for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The last steel beam was placed atop a new $40 million structure at the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, New York, on May 11, 2016. Photo from Facebook

At issue is a provision of IGRA that, generally, bars gaming on lands placed in trust after 1988. The tribe acquired the Buffalo site in 2005, long after the deadline laid out in Section 20 of the law.

But the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that IGRA's general prohibition does not apply to the tribe because the site was acquired in connection with the Seneca Nation Settlement Act of 1990. That law requires the land to be held in "restricted fee" status, a different category than land placed "in trust," a three-judge panel determined.

The National Indian Gaming Commission is the defendant in the case and the Obama administration has urged the Supreme Court not to grant it. There are no conflicts with other decisions, government attorneys wrote in a brief last month.

The situation is indeed unique in that the Seneca Nation appears to be the only tribe in the U.S. to operate a casino on restricted fee lands that were acquired after 1988 and in connection with a land claim settlement. The Seneca Niagara Resort and Casino is also located on restricted fee land.

Still, the court has tended to avoid Indian gaming disputes. The last decision that directly addressed IGRA was Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community from May 2014. Before that was Chickasaw Nation v. US in 2001.

Both of those cases drew significant interest in Indian Country. In contrast, the current petition only drew one brief -- from the anti-Indian Citizens Equal Rights Foundation.

2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County v. Chaudhuri (September 15, 2015)

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