Public Law 280
Public Law 83- 280 (commonly referred to as
Public Law 280 or PL 280) was a transfer of legal authority (jurisdiction) from
the federal government to state governments which significantly changed the
division of legal authority among tribal, federal, and state governments.
Congress gave six states (five states initially - California, Minnesota,
Nebraska, Oregon, and Wisconsin; and then Alaska upon statehood) extensive
criminal and civil jurisdiction over tribal lands within the affected states
(the so-called "mandatory states"). Public Law 280 also permitted the
other states to acquire jurisdiction at their option. Public Law 280 has
generally brought about:
- an increased role for state criminal justice systems in "Indian
country" (a term which is specifically defined in federal statutes,
- a virtual elimination of the special federal criminal justice role (and a
consequent diminishment of the special relationship between Indian Nations
and the federal government),
- numerous obstacles to individual Nations in their development of tribal
criminal justice systems, and
- an increased and confusing state role in civil related matters.
Consequently, Public Law 280 presents a series of important issues and
concerns for Indian country crime victims and for those involved in
assisting these crime victims.
Public Law 280, however, is a complicated statute which has been very
controversial since the time of its enactment in 1953. It has often been
misunderstood and misapplied by both federal and state governments. Moreover,
the practical impact of Public Law 280 has gone far beyond that which was
legally required, intended, and contemplated.
For additional Public Law 280 resources, please see our
Indian Law Reviews page.
Focus Group on Public Law 280 and the Sexual Assault of Native Women
On August 15 - 16, 2007 the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW)
hosted a focus group in Green Bay, Wisconsin to discuss challenges to,
and opportunities for, collaboration between states and tribes in Public
Law 280 jurisdictions to address sexual assault in Indian country. The
Tribal Law and Policy Institute provided technical assistance and
collaborated with OVW on the design and delivery of the session. This
final report details the event.
The Great Lakes
Indian Law Center at the University of Wisconsin School of Law has posted a
paper focusing the PL 280 and tribal courts in Wisconsin. “A
Perspective on the ‘schizophrenic’ approach to our legal relationship with
Wisconsin’s Indian Nations and a modest proposal to give clarity to the federal
Public Law 83-280 in Wisconsin” (Microsoft Word
Document) is a response to proposed Wisconsin Rule of Court 7-11.
Final Report - Law Enforcement and
Criminal Justice Under Public Law 280 examined the perspectives of more than
350 Indian tribal members and State and local officials on the impact of Federal
Public Law (PL) 280, which structures law enforcement and criminal justice for
23 percent of the reservation-based tribal population and 51 percent of all
tribes in the lower 48 States, while potentially affecting all Alaska Natives
and their tribes or villages. Analysis of the qualitative and quantitative data
indicates that reservation residents in PL-280 jurisdictions typically rated the
availability and quality of law enforcement and criminal justice lower than
reservation residents in non-PL-280 jurisdictions. State/county law enforcement
officials in PL-280 jurisdictions, on the other hand, tended to provide more
positive assessments of the impact of PL 280.
jurisdiction overlooked problem in criminal justice debate, by Carole
Criminal justice in Indian country comes in two distinct flavors - one blends
federal and tribal authority, while the other blends state and tribal authority.
Reservations across the country are subject to one or the other. But crime
reports and most federal hearings on Indian country criminal justice focus only
on the federal/tribal reservations. That's a mistake, because the state/tribal
reservations encompass nearly one-quarter of the reservation-based tribal
population and just over half the tribes in the lower 48 states, not to mention
all Alaska Native villages. Any response to crime in Indian country needs to
take account of the special problems posed by state jurisdiction.
Tribal Jurisdictional Status Analysis
(Updated February 16, 2010) by Carole Goldberg and Jonathan D. Varat, describes
the legislation and case law pertaining to the jurisdiction of tribes in
relationship to state jurisdiction.
We have now posted the entire text of Public
Law (P.L.) 280.
|Public Law 280 and Law Enforcement in Indian Country—Research
Priorities (December 2005) - Passed in 1953, Public Law 280 (PL 280)
gave jurisdiction over criminal offenses involving Indians in Indian
Country to certain States and allowed other States to assume
jurisdiction Subsequent legislation allowed States to retrocede
jurisdiction, which has occurred in some areas Some PL 280 reservations
have experienced jurisdictional confusion, tribal discontent, and
litigation, compounded by the lack of data on crime rates and law
Institute of Justice Research in Brief
summarizes the current status of PL 280 jurisdiction, identifies the key
issues, and lists areas for further research and action.
Questions and Answers About Public Law 280,
by Carole Goldberg, is an article that provides answers to frequently asked questions about Public Law 280
- a federal statute enacted in 1953 which gave certain states jurisdiction in
Indian country. Professor Goldberg has also set out the following overview of
what Public Law 280 did and did not do.
What Public Law 280 did do:
- Eliminated most federal Indian country criminal jurisdiction
- Authorized state criminal jurisdiction -- broader scope than previous
- Opened state civil courts to suits against Indians
- After 1968, authorized retrocession upon state's request
What Public Law 280 did NOT do:
- Terminate tribes
- Federal recognition maintained
- Trust status of land maintained
- Federal obligations to provide services maintained
- Authorize jurisdiction over tribes
- Make state regulations applicable to Indians
- Give the state taxing authority over Indians
- Make county and city laws applicable to Indians
- Abrogate tribes' federally protected hunting and fishing rights
- Authorize state jurisdiction over trust lands
- Eliminate the tribes' civil and criminal jurisdiction
by President Dwight D. Eisenhower Upon Signing Bill Relating to
State Jurisdiction Over Cases Arising on Indian Reservations (Public Law
Tribal And State Jurisdiction Under Public Law 280, by Vanessa J. Jiménez
and Soo C. Song
Public Law 280: Issues and Concerns For
Victims of Crime in Indian Country, by Ada Pecos Melton and Jerry Gardner
Every nation’s survival and self-governance hinges on its ability to maintain
law and order and secure "comfortable, safe, and peaceable living"
among its citizens. Indian nations are no different. Tribal governments need to
maintain an adequate measure of justice and peace among their members if they
are to survive and develop as viable entities. Tribal justice systems, including
tribal courts and law enforcement, are essential institutions of tribal
self-government. Currently, many tribal justice systems—widely varied in their
relative sophistication and form—find themselves at a pivotal point in their
development. Although increasing in number and prominence, uneven political,
legal, and financial support impedes the ability of many tribal justice systems
to function in full parity with state and federal systems ...
Public Law 83-280 (commonly referred to as Public Law 280 or PL 280) was a
transfer of legal authority (jurisdiction) from the federal government to state
governments which significantly changed the division of legal authority among
tribal, federal, and state governments . . .
A Second Century of
Dishonor: Federal Inequities and California Tribes, by Carole Goldberg, J.D.
and Duane Champagne, Ph. D., with assistance from Wallace T. Cleaves, Leroy
Seidel, Chad Gordon , Patty Ferguson, Kit Winter, Lola Worthington and Lori
This article focuses on California (one of the mandatory Public Law 280 states)
and the inequities suffered by California Tribes, including the impact of
Public Law 280. For over 100 years, studies conducted by federal, state, and
private agencies have reached the same conclusion: California Indians are not
receiving a fair share from federal Indian programs; and because they have
received less support from the federal government, California Indians have
suffered in social-economic well-being relative to other Indian groups in other
states . . .
The Center on Child Abuse and
Neglect (CCAN) provides a Native American topic specific monograph series to
assist individuals in better understanding issues affecting Native communities.
One of these booklets is Public
Law 280: Issues and Concerns.
The Office of Tribal Justice of the US
Department of Justice issued a memo on November 9, 2000, entitled Concurrent
Tribal Authority Under Public Law 83-280, and concluding that "Indian
tribes retain concurrent criminal jurisdiction over Indians in P.L. 280 states.
That is the shared view of Federal Government and the vast majority of courts
that have directly considered the issue."
Criminal Jurisdiction on Indian Reservations (Indian Country)
without PL 280
||Over Indians, subject to
sentencing limits in Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA)
subject to sentencing limits in Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA)
crimes committed by Indians (Major Crimes Act); Over interracial crime: Indian v.
non-Indian (General Crimes Act); Over special liquor, gaming, and other offenses;
otherwise, same as Off-Reservation
crimes committed by non-Indians against other non-Indians
and non-Indians generally, with exceptions found in Public Law 280