Congress yet to take action on Carcieri land-into-trust decision

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Indianz.Com

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar threw a major wrench in the land-into-trust process but Congress has failed to address the uncertainty.

The February 2009 ruling stated that the Bureau of Indian Affairs can only place land in trust for tribes that were "under federal jurisdiction" as of 1934. Although that phrase wasn't defined, tribes that gained federal recognition after that date have been forced to jump through extra hurdles to prove their status.

"I've got 11 tribes in my district. None of them are affected by Carcieri; all of them are for [a fix] because they understand that it's a bad thing to have two different classes of Indian tribes," Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and one of only two members of a federally-recognized tribe in Congress, told E&E Daily.

Resolving the situation could be as simple as removing one word from the phrase that connected "under federal jurisdiction" to the year 1934. But a so-called "clean" Carcieri fix, like the one found in S.732 and H.R.249, has been controversial due to other issues like the role of local governments and gaming.

Indianz.Com SoundCloud: U.S. Supreme Court Oral Arguments in Carcieri v. Salazar

"Practically, I don't think a clean Carcieri fix will pass the Senate; they've basically said as much," Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told E&E Daily.

Some lawmakers are now introducing fixes that merely confirm prior land-into-trust decisions to ensure they can't be challenged in federal court. S.1931, H.R.3137 and H.R.407 are three examples of that approach.

But that isn't enough for some. So Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, introduced S.1879, the Interior Improvement Act, to overhaul the entire land-into-trust process.

So far none of the six versions of the Carcieri fix have been approved by any committees in the House or the Senate.

Get the Story:
Congress grappling with 6-year-old Supreme Court land ruling (E&E Daily 10/28)

DOI Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014)

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