Law | Opinion

Lyle Denniston: Supreme Court seems more sympathetic to Omaha Tribe in reservation boundary case

Members of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska participate in Spiritual Ride on the reservation on January 16, 2016, in advance of oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court. Photo from Facebook

Oral arguments in Nebraska v. Parker appeared to go well for the Omaha Tribe at the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday. Lyle Denniston analyzes the case on SCOTUSBlog:
The image of an Indian tribe, ominously hovering on the edge of town with ambitions to take over. Or the picture of a pitifully small Indian tribe wanting only to hang onto a heritage of lands it can call home. Those were the conflicting visions lawyers tried to create for the Supreme Court on Wednesday in Nebraska v. Parker. The Justices, though, were decidedly more sympathetic to the tribe; they simply could not imagine the worst for the small town of Pender, Nebraska.

“The question is: who’s got the power to govern?” a lawyer speaking for the town asked as the argument was coming to a close. “The people in Pender, this is a big deal. It’s a big deal whether a tribal council has authority over us.”

The Justices were not without sympathy, but they did not seem convinced that life would change much in Pender, even if it were left occupying land inside the boundary of the Omaha Indian Tribe’s reservation.

The legal issue the Court was exploring was whether Congress, in passing a law in 1882, had actually cut back on the size of the once-vast reservation in northeastern Nebraska, opening a chunk on the west side to settlers eager to begin turning the barren plains green. Although the Court examined closely the exact language of that 134-year-old law, and explored how one figures out Congress’s intent in such matters, the case seemed to come down to the potential consequences of ruling for the tribe.

Get the Story:
Argument analysis by Lyle Denniston: A “big deal” for a small town? Or not so big? (SCOTUSBlog 1/200

Supreme Court Documents:
Oral Argument Transcript | Docket Sheet No. 14-1406 | Questions Presented | Hearing List: January 2016

8th Circuit Decision:
Smith v. Parker (December 19, 2014)

Federal Court Documents:
Status Report [Includes tribal court decision] | Court Order

Join the Conversation

Related Stories:
Matthew Fletcher: Commentary on Supreme Court oral argument (1/21)
Supreme Court hears Omaha Tribe reservation boundary dispute (1/20)
Omaha Tribe lands in Supreme Court in reservation boundary case (1/19)
Mike Myers: Supreme Court ready to cheat Native people again (1/18)
Lyle Denniston: Supreme Court considers Omaha Tribe dispute (1/14)
Matthew Birkhold: Supreme Court to hear reservation dispute (12/21)
Supreme Court schedules oral arguments in Omaha Tribe dispute (12/02)
Supreme Court agrees to hear Omaha Reservation boundary case (10/02)
Supreme Court considers petitions in slew of Indian law cases (09/22)
Obama backs Omaha Tribe in dispute over reservation boundaries (08/24)
Omaha Tribe surprised by appeal in reservation boundary case (05/28)
Brian Pierson: Recent federal court rulings affecting Indian law (03/10)
Omaha Tribe welcomes denial of rehearing in boundary lawsuit (03/02)
Dennis Hastings: Omaha tribal sovereignty for 2015 and beyond (12/26)
8th Circuit sides with Omaha Tribe in reservation boundary case (12/19)
Omaha Tribe links incident to dispute over reservation borders (10/08)
Judge backs Omaha Tribe in lawsuit over taxes on non-Indians (02/18)
NCAI backs Omaha Tribe in suit over alcohol tax on businesses (7/11)
Federal judge set to rule on Omaha Tribe's liquor taxation case (02/20)
Omaha Tribe heading back in court in alcohol taxation dispute (2/19)