Supreme Court takes up Tohono O'odham Nation trust law dispute
The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in US v. Tohono O'odham Nation on Monday.

The justices considered whether the Tohono O’odham Nation can pursue two trust lawsuits in different venues. In the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the tribe is seeking an historical accounting as a damages case is pending in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

An attorney for the Obama administration called the lawsuits "duplicative." Assistant Solicitor General Anthony Yang said Congress has forced all tribes to make a "tough choice" by picking only one venue for a trust lawsuit.

At the same time, Yang said it was possible for a tribe to file an historical account lawsuit and have it resolved before the six-year statute of limitations runs out on a damages claim. Then, the tribe could turn to the Court of Federal Claims, he argued.

Of the members of the court, Justice Antonin Scalia seemed willing to side with the government. Other justices appeared to be skeptical of Yang's arguments.

Danielle Spinelli argued the case for the tribe. She pointed out that a historical accounting gives tribes valuable information about their trust assets that they may not know.

Justice Elena Kagan, the newest member of the court, recused herself from the case. She served as Solicitor General at the Department of Justice when the Obama administration filed its appeal.

In the event of a 4-4 split among the remaining justices, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of the tribe will stand.

Get the Story:
Court Considers Tribal Duplicative Relief Case (Courthouse News Service 11/1)

Oral Argument Transcript:
US v. Tohono O'odham Nation (November 1, 2010)

Federal Circuit Decision:
Tohono O'odham Nation v US (March 16, 2009)

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