Supreme Court won't hear case challenging Ute Tribe's sovereignty

The seal of the Ute Tribe of Utah is seen on a gymnasium on the reservation. Photo from Ute Tribe Recreation / Facebook

In a major victory for the Ute Tribe of Utah, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up a long-running dispute over its sovereignty.

Last June, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rebuked the state and three counties for repeatedly challenging the tribe's authority. The unanimous opinion called on them to stop trying to "relitigate" the boundaries of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation because they have lost a string of cases dating back decades.

"Just as they did in the 1990s, they are again prosecuting tribal members in state court for offenses occurring on tribal lands," Judge Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority, explaining how the matter ended up before the 10th Circuit again.

The state parties, though, didn't heed the call for restraint and instead asked the high court to overturn the decision. But their effort was turned back when the justices declined the petition in Wasatch County, Utah v. Ute Indian Tribe in an order list issued in the morning.

The order came without comment so it's not possible to determine why the court refused to hear the case. It only takes a vote of four justices to grant a petition so it's possible that the absence of Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February, played a role.

Whatever the reason, Indian Country can rest knowing that the court will not hear another reservation boundary case. A decision is pending in Nebraska v. Parker, which the court heard on January 20, prior to Scalia's passing. The outcome will determine whether the reservation of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska has been diminished.

10th Circuit Decision:
Ute Tribe v. Utah (June 16, 2015)

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