Indianz.Com > COVID-19 > CARES Act Litigation: Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation
Posted: April 16, 2021
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The U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments in Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation and Alaska Native Village Corporation Association v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation  on Monday, April 19, 2021.

The hearing is scheduled to start at 10am Eastern. It will last one hour although the justices tend to go long whenever they hear Indian law disputes.

At issue is whether Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs) are entitled to COVID-19 payments from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act. Last fall, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the ANCs are not able to receive payments because they are not recognized in the same manner as Indian nations, whose governments are in a nation-to-nation relationship with the U.S. government.

The Trump administration, which supported the ANCs receiving COVID-19 relief over objections from Indian nations, appealed the D.C. Circuit ruling. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the dispute on January 8, just 12 days before Joe Biden became president.

Despite the change in guard, the Biden administration has continued to pursue the matter. The Department of Justice even agreed to share argument time with the ANCs, a request that was granted by the Supreme Court in an order on Friday afternoon.



The tribal side of the argument has been somewhat murky. The Ute Tribe, whose leaders filed one of the lawsuits challenging the Trump administration’s prior determination, asked to share time with an attorney for the other Indian nations but was denied in the order on Friday.

The Supreme Court docket sheet for Case No. 20-543 shows the competing motions for oral argument from the attorneys for the Ute Tribe and the attorneys for other tribal governments that have been part of the litigation. On Thursday, the latter group of attorneys said they did not object to the Ute Tribe sharing argument.

Later on Friday afternoon, following the first order, the Supreme Court took action again and assigned attorney Jeff Rasmussen, who represents the Ute Tribe, to present the entire argument alone.

According to the day call for Monday, Matthew Guarnieri, who is an Assistant to the Solicitor General at the Department of Justice, and Paul Clement, a high-profile attorney who has argued more cases before the Supreme Court than any other person, will share 30 minutes of time. Clement represents the ANCs.

Rasmussen will then have 30 minutes to argue the tribal side of the case.



The CARES Act provided $8 billion in COVID-19 relief to tribal governments. Of that amount, all but about $534 million has been distributed by the Department of the Treasury, with former Secretary Steven Mnuchin overseeing the process during the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

Should the Supreme Court side with the Biden administration and the ANCs, the Alaska corporations would be entitled to payments from the remaining $534 million. However, Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen has since engaged in new consultations with tribes to determine whether the prior allocation method was fair, in response to yet another CARES Act lawsuit known as Shawnee Tribe v. Yellen.

The outcome of those discussions, as well as the forthcoming ruling from the Supreme Court, will have an impact on how the remaining $534 million is distributed, as the D.C. Circuit has held that some tribes were underpaid by the Trump administration.

The Yellen litigation consists of three cases that have been consolidated. The plaintiffs in Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation v. Yellen are:

  • Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation (Washington)
  • Tulalip Tribes (Washington)
  • Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians (Maine)
  • Akiak Native Community (Alaska)
  • Asa’carsarmiut Tribe (Alaska)
  • Aleut Community of St. Paul Island (Alaska)
  • Navajo Nation (Arizona, New Mexico, Utah)
  • Quinault Nation (Washington)
  • Pueblo of Picuris (New Mexico)
  • Elk Valley Rancheria (California)
  • San Carlos Apache Tribe (Arizona)

The plaintiffs in Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe v. Yellen are:

  • Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe (South Dakota)
  • Rosebud Sioux Tribe (South Dakota)
  • Oglala Sioux Tribe (South Dakota)
  • Nondalton Tribal Council (Alaska)
  • Native Village of Venetie (Alaska)
  • Arctic Village Council (Alaska)

The third case is Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation v. Yellen. The sole plaintiff is:

  • Ute Indian Tribe (Utah)

The Supreme Court has been holding arguments virtually since the onset of COVID-19 in March 2020. A live broadcast is being provided by C-SPAN. Indianz.Com also plans to broadcast the arguments on Clubhouse on Monday morning.

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