The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe owns and operates Naskila Gaming in Livingston, Texas. Photo: Naskila Gaming

Alabama-Coushatta Tribe asks Supreme Court to hear sovereignty case

The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe is asking the U.S. Supreme Court for help with its disputed casino in Texas.

In a petition filed September 23, the tribe called on the high court to recognize its sovereign rights over its homelands. Doing so would keep Naskila Gaming, a Class II gaming facility, open over the objections of the state.

"This court’s review is necessary to restore nationwide uniformity on an exceedingly important question of federal Indian law and policy, vindicate tribal sovereignty, and enforce the 'enduring principle of Indian law' that 'courts will not lightly assume that Congress in fact intends to undermine Indian self-government," the petition reads.

Normally, Class II gaming falls outside the reach of state control. But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has repeatedly ruled that the tribe must comply with the laws of Texas, which do not permit such operations.

To clarify the matter, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.759, the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Tribes of Texas Equal and Fair Opportunity Settlement Act, by a voice vote on July 24. The bill puts the tribe, as well as the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, whose gaming facility is also in dispute, on the same footing as nearly every other Indian nation.

The measure enjoys bipartisan support. But it has yet to be taken up by the U.S. Senate, which is in Republican hands.

The state of Texas opposes the bill, a stance which some Republicans have cited as their reason for not supporting it. The tribe has said it will work with its Senate delegation to address any concerns.

"We understand passage of H.R.759 in the United States House of Representatives is a stepping stone toward becoming law and look forward to working with Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz," Chairwoman Cecilia Flores said in a July 25 statement, referring to Cornyn, who serves in the Republican leadership in the chamber and was attorney general when the state shut down the tribe's prior casino, and Cruz, a former Republican presidential candidate who is known for injecting uncertainty in the legislative process. "We see and hear the outpouring of support from our friends, neighbors and legislators."

The state's response to the tribe's petition is due October 25, according to Docket No. 19-403. Assuming a response is filed, the tribe will be able to submit a reply before the justices of the Supreme Court take the petition under advisement.

It takes a vote of at least four justices for a petition to be granted and heard by the court. Historically, Indian gaming cases are rarely granted.

Court documents for Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas v. State of Texas can be found on the NCAI-NARF Tribal Supreme Court Project website.

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision
Texas v. Alabama-Coushatta Tribe (March 14, 2019)

Indianz.Com on SoundCloud: 5th Circuit Court of Appeals -- State of Texas v. Alabama-Coushatta Tribe -- January 9, 2019

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