High court rejects state raid, land claim

The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear two Indian law cases on Monday, closing the doors on a contentious sovereignty case and another tribal land claim.

In the first case, the justices rejected an appeal from the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island. The tribe's reservation was raided by state troopers, who arrested tribal leaders and members, seized tribal property and shut down a smoke shop.

In the second, the justices refused to consider the Delaware Nation's claim to 315 acres in Pennsylvania. The tribe, based in Oklahoma, wanted to trade its land for gaming rights in what has become a controversial practice.

Narragansett Tribe v. Rhode Island, No. 06-414
On July 14, 2003, television stations nationwide broadcast a violent raid of the Narragansett Reservation. State troopers, acting on orders from Gov. Donald Carcieri (R), went there to shut down a smoke shop that was selling tobacco products without a state tax.

The tribe sued the state, claiming its rights were violated. In a May 2005 ruling, a three-judge panel of the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the raid trampled on tribal sovereignty but said the state could impose taxes on the reservation, and recommended a compact.

After a rehearing, the 1st Circuit issued an even broader ruling this past May. By a 4-2 vote, the court said the state can enforce all of its laws on the reservation, citing a land claim settlement approved back in 1983.

The tribe subsequently filed a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court. Without comment, the justices denied the writ, upholding the 1st Circuit ruling that could set precedent for other tribes in Maine and Massachusetts that signed similar land claim settlements.

But the issue could come up again with another case in the 1st Circuit. Land taken into trust outside the Narragansett's land claim area could remain out of reach of state laws depending how the court rules.

There's also the open question whether acts of Congress that granted state jurisdiction over Indian Country apply to the actions of tribal governments and not just tribal members. The Supreme Court failed to resolve that dispute in another state raid case back in 2003.

Court Rulings:
En Banc (May 24, 2006) | Panel (May 12, 2005)

Related Stories:
Court subjects Narragansett Tribe to all state laws (05/25)
Appeals court hears tribal-state sovereignty dispute (12/07)
Narragansett Tribe back in court over sovereignty (12/6)
Rhode Island set to appeal trust land decision (09/16)
Trust land challenge rejected by appeals court (9/14)

Delaware Nation v. Pennsylvania, No. 06-364
The Delaware Nation of Oklahoma was forced to leave its homelands in the East during the 1800s. But the tribe said one of its ancestors, Chief "Moses" Tundy Tetamy, held onto a 315-acre reservation in Pennsylvania.

In hopes of using that land as leverage for gaming rights, the tribe filed suit against the state and landowners back in 2003. At the time, the state was in the process of legalizing slot machines and the tribe wanted to cash in.

The effort was cut short in December 2005 by a federal judge who said Lenni Lenape chiefs willingly gave up their land in what has been called the Walking Purchase of 1737. The judge agreed the tribe, however, was cheated because the sons of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, took more land than was expected.

The tribe took the case to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals but failed to reinstate the claim. Meanwhile, some members of Congress introduced legislation that would bar tribes from using land claims to obtain gaming rights and from crossing state lines to open casinos.

The bills failed as the tribe went to the Supreme Court for review. Without comment, the justices rejected the petition, although new Justice Samuel A. Alito did not take part. He used to sit on the 3rd Circuit, although he wasn't directly involved in the tribe's case.

Land claims haven't fared well in the courts in recent years. In May, the Supreme Court rejected the Cayuga claim in New York, affirming a precedent that allows tribal cases to be dismissed simply due to the passage of time. Tribal advocates fear courts across the nation will adopt similar stances on land, hunting, fishing and treaty cases.

Court Rulings:
3rd Circuit (May 4, 2006) | Lower Court (December 1, 2004)

Related Stories:
Delaware Nation loses out-of-state land claim (05/05)
Oklahoma tribe loses bid for out-of-state land (12/03)
Delaware tribal ties to Penn. uncontested (05/20)
Delaware ancestor was granted 315 acres in Penn. (5/16)

Relevant Documents:
Supreme Court Order List (November 27, 2006)

Relevant Links:
NARF-NCAI Tribal Supreme Court Project - U.S. Supreme Court -
Supreme Court Blog -