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Federal Court Decisions

This page provides links to all Federal Courts and case summaries of Indian law cases decided by the United States Supreme Court from 1991 through 2008 with links to the court syllabus, the full opinions for each case, and all dissents. This page also contains information concerning Indian law cases pending before the U.S. Supreme Court during the current term.

Supreme Court Decisions (20010-2011)

United States v. Jicarilla Apache Nation (Docket 10-382).
Issue: Whether the attorney-client privilege entitles the United States to withhold from an Indian tribe confidential communications between the government and government attorneys implicating the administration of statutes pertaining to property held in trust for the tribe.

United States v. Tohono O’odham Nation (Docket 09-846).
Issue: A federal statute provides that the Court of Federal Claims lacks jurisdiction to hear a suit against the federal government raising a claim that is already being litigated against the government in another court. Does this provision apply when the plaintiff brings a lawsuit in both the Court of Federal Claims and another court based on the same set of facts, but seeks different forms of relief in the two cases?

Madison County v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York (Docket 10-72)
Issue(s): (1) Whether tribal sovereign immunity from suit bars taxing authorities from foreclosing to collect lawfully imposed property taxes; and (2) whether the ancient Oneida reservation in New York was disestablished or diminished.

Supreme Court Decisions (2009-2010)

United States v. Tohono O’odham Nation (Docket 09-846)
Issue: Whether 28 U.S.C. § 1500 — which precludes jurisdiction by the Court of Federal Claims (CFC) over ”any claim for or in respect to which the plaintiff has any suit or process against the United States” or its agents “pending in any other court” – deprives the CFC of jurisdiction over a claim seeking monetary relief for the government’s alleged violation of fiduciary obligations if the plaintiff has another suit pending in federal district court based on substantially the same operative facts, especially when the plaintiff seeks monetary relief or other overlapping relief in the two suits.

Supreme Court Decisions (2008-2009)

Supreme Court rules in big land-into-trust case (February 24, 2009) Tribes that weren't under federal jurisdiction in 1934 cannot follow the land-into-trust process of the Indian Reorganization Act, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Carcieri V. Salazar. By a 6-3 vote, the justices said the Interior Department can't acquire land for the Narragansett Tribe of Rhode Island because the tribe didn't gain federal recognition until 1983. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion. Three justices dissented from the court's opinion. Justice David Souter agreed with the 1934 issue but said the Narragansetts should be given the opportunity to prove they were under federal jurisdiction at the time, an issue that wasn't argued when the case was accepted. "The very notion of jurisdiction as a distinct statutory condition was ignored in this litigation, and I know of no body of precedent or history of practice giving content to the condition sufficient for gauging the tribe’s chances of satisfying it," Souter wrote in an opinion that was joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice John Paul Stevens disagreed with the 1934 issue altogether and said the Narragansetts are an Indian tribe as defined by the IRA. "That tribe has existed as a continuous political entity since the early 17th century," he wrote. Justice Stephen G. Breyer joined the majority opinion and authored a concurrence that said the Narragansetts have no way of proving they were under federal jurisdiction in 1934. "Because I see no realistic possibility that the Narragansett Tribe could prevail on the basis of a theory alternative to the theories argued here, I would not remand this case," he wrote. More Information >>>

Supreme Court Decisions (2007-2008)

Plains Commerce Bank, Petitioner v. Long Family Land and Cattle Company, Inc., et al. (NO. 07-411), reversed
Syllabus | Opinion [Roberts] | Dissent [Ginsburg]
No. 07–411. Argued April 14, 2008—Decided June 25, 2008
Issue: Whether Indian tribal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction to adjudicate civil tort claims as an “other means” of regulating the conduct of a nonmember bank owning fee-land on a reservation that entered into a private commercial agreement with a member-owned corporation?
Held: According to precedents, “a tribe’s adjudicative jurisdiction does not exceed its legislative jurisdiction.” Id., at 453. We reaffirm that principle today and hold that the Tribal Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the Longs’ discrimination claim because the Tribe lacks the civil authority to regulate the Bank’s sale of its fee land.

Exxon Shipping Company, Petitioners v. Grant Baker, et al.
Docketed: August 21, 2007
Lower Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Case Nos.: (04-35183)
Decision Date: December 22, 2006
Rehearing Denied: May 23, 2007
The questions presented are: 1. May punitive damages be imposed under maritime law against a shipowner (as the Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of the First, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits) for the conduct of a ship’s master at sea, absent a finding that the owner directed, countenanced, or participated in that conduct, and even when the conduct was contrary to policies established and enforced by the owner? 2. When Congress has specified the criminal and civil penalties for maritime conduct in a controlling statute, here the Clean Water Act, but has not provided for punitive damages, may judge-made federal maritime law (as the Ninth Circuit held, contrary to decisions of the First, Second, Fifth, and Sixth Circuits) expand the penalties Congress provided by adding a punitive damages remedy? 3. Is this $2.5 billion punitive damages award, which is larger than the total of all punitive damages awards affirmed by all federal appellate courts in our history, within the limits allowed by (1) federal maritime law or (2) if maritime law could permit such an award, constitutional due process?
Decisions:

Steven MacArthur, et al., Petitioners v. San Juan County, Utah, et al.
Docketed: November 27, 2007
Lower Court: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
Case Nos.: (05-4295, 05-4310)
Decision Date: July 18, 2007
Rehearing Denied: August 14, 2007
History: Petition for certiorari was filed on November 13, 2007.
Question Presented for Review: Whether the court of appeals properly held that, with one exception, the Navajo tribal court lacked jurisdiction over respondents and, on that ground and others, properly affirmed the district court's dismissal of petitioners' claim seeking to enforce certain preliminary orders of the Navajo tribal court?

Island, et al., Petitioners v. Dirk Kempthorne, Secretary of the Interior, et al.
Docketed: October 23, 2007
Lower Court: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
Case Nos.: (03-2647)
Docket No. 07-526
Decision Date: July 20, 2007
History: Petition for certiorari was filed on October 18, 2007.
The questions presented are: (1) Does Indian Reorganization Act empower secretary to take land into trust for Indian tribes that were not recognized and under federal jurisdiction in 1934? (2) Does act of Congress that extinguishes aboriginal title and all claims based on Indian rights and interests in land preclude secretary from creating Indian country there? (3) Does providing land "for Indians" in Indian Reorganization Act establish sufficiently intelligible principle upon which to delegate power to take land into trust?

Supreme Court Decisions (2005-2006)

Supreme Court move settles tribal authority cases (October 11, 2006) Tribal jurisdiction over all Indians appears to be safe after the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected two cases, including a long-running challenge from activist Russell Means. Means, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is accused of committing a crime on the Navajo Nation in 1997. He has repeatedly claimed that the can't be held responsible because he isn't a Navajo citizen. But after a string of appeals in tribal and federal court, the author and actor can now be prosecuted for allegedly beating up his former father-in-law during a domestic violence incident. The U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear his case clears the way for tribal jurisdiction. More Information >>>

Wagnon v. Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation (No. 04-631), reversed
Syllabus | Opinion (Thomas) | Dissent (Ginsburg)
Argued October 3, 2005 — Decided December 6, 2005
Issue: Whether a state motor fuels tax that is "imposed on the use, sale, or delivery" of motor fuel may be imposed on motor fuel that a non-Indian, off-reservation distributor delivers and sells directly to an Indian Tribe at its on-reservation service station. Held: The Court finds that the balancing test does not apply because the legal incidence of the tax falls on non-tribal distributors. Therefore, the tax is valid and poses no affront to the Nation’s sovereignty. The Bracker interest-balancing test does not apply to a tax that results from an off-reservation transaction between non-Indians.

Supreme Court Decisions (2004-2005)

City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. (No.03-855), reversed and remanded
Syllabus | Opinion (Ginsburg) | Concurrence (Souter) | Dissent (Stevens)
Argued January 11, 2005 — Decided March 29, 2005
Question: Can Two Centuries of Non-Indian Occupation Eliminate the Non-Taxable Status of Tribal Lands in a Treaty-Recognized Reservation? Held: The Court holds that given the longstanding, distinctly non-Indian character of central New York and its inhabitants, the regulatory authority over the area constantly exercised by the State and its counties and towns for 200 years, and the Oneidas’ long delay in seeking judicial relief against parties other than the United States, standards of federal Indian law and federal equity practice preclude the Tribe from unilaterally reviving its ancient sovereignty, in whole or in part, over the parcels at issue. The Oneidas long ago relinquished governmental reins and cannot regain them through open-market purchases from current titleholders.

Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma et al. v. Leavitt, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al. (No. 02—1472)
Syllabus | Opinion (Breyer) | Concurrence (Scalia)
Argued November 9, 2004 — Decided March 1, 2005
Question: 1. Whether the federal government can repudiate, without liability, express contractual commitments for which it has received valuable consideration, either by spending down discretionary agency appropriations otherwise available to pay its contracts, or simply by changing the law and the contracts retroactively. 2. Whether government contract payment rights that are contingent on "the availability of appropriations" vest when an agency receives a lump-sum appropriation that is legally available to pay the contracts — as is the law of the Federal Circuit under Blackhawk Heating — or is the government's liability calculated only at the end of the year after the agency has spent its appropriations on other activities, as the Tenth Circuit ruled below. Held: The Government is legally bound to pay the “contract support costs” at issue.

Supreme Court Decisions last term (2003-2004)

Two Indian law cases were decided by the Supreme Court in the 2003-2004 term.

South Florida Water Management District v. Miccosukee Tribe of Indians et al. (No. 02-626)
Syllabus | Opinion (O’Connor) | Other (Scalia)
Argued January 14, 2004 — Decided March 23, 2004
Does pumping water into a water conservation area - where the water being pumped contains a pollutant but the pumping station itself adds no pollutants to the water - violate the Clean Water Act's prohibition of adding pollutants from a point source? In an opinion delivered by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the Court sent the case back to the district court to consider whether the water conservation area and the canal used to transport the water are distinct. If the district court decides the two are not distinct, then the water district will not need a permit under the Clean Water Act. The Court rejected the water district's argument that the act covers a point source only when pollutants originate from that source, not when pollutants originating elsewhere pass through the point source. A point source need only convey the pollutant to navigable waters. The Court was unanimous in sending the case back to district court. Justice Antonin Scalia dissented from part of the Court's reasoning. Analysis

United States v. Lara (No. 03-107), reversed
Syllabus | Opinion (Breyer) | Concurrence (Stevens) | Concurrence (Kennedy) | Concurrence (Thomas) | Dissent (Souter)
Argued January 21, 2004 — Decided April 19, 2004
Does the Indian Civil Rights Act (1968) give Indian tribes separate sovereignty to prosecute nonmembers (as opposed to delegating federal power to the tribes for prosecution purposes) such that prosecution in tribal and federal courts for the same crime would not violate the Fifth Amendment double jeopardy clause? Yes. The Court found that the right to prosecute nonmember Indians is inherent in the sovereignty of Native American tribes. Congress may constitutionally choose to restrict this right, but its choice not to (or its choice to relax earlier-imposed restrictions) is different from a delegation of federal prosecutorial power. Prosecuting a crime under both federal and tribal law, therefore, does not violate the Constitution's ban on double jeopardy.

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 2002-2003 Term

Three Indian law cases were decided by the Supreme Court in the 2002-2003 term.

Inyo County v. Paiute-Shoshone Indians (No. 02-281) 538 U.S. 701 (2003), vacated and remanded
Syllabus | Opinion (Ginsburg) | Concurrence (Stevens)
Argued March 31, 2003 — Decided May 19, 2003
Does doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity enable Indian tribes, their gambling casinos, and other commercial businesses to prohibit searching of their property by law enforcement officers for criminal evidence pertaining to commission of off-reservation state crimes, when search is pursuant to search warrant issued upon probable cause? The Court holds that the Tribe may not sue under §1983 to vindicate the sovereign right it here claims. Section 1983 permits “citizen[s]” and “other person[s] within the jurisdiction” of the United States to seek legal and equitable relief from “person[s]” who, under color of state law, deprive them of federally protected rights. Although this case does not squarely present the question, the Court assumes that tribes, like States, are not subject to suit under §1983. See Michigan Dept. of State v. Will, 491 U.S. 58. Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

United States v. Navajo Nation (01-1375) 537 U.S. 488 (2003), reversed and remanded
Syllabus | Opinion (Ginsburg) | Dissent (Souter)
Argued December 2, 2002 — Decided March 4, 2003
Question: Whether the court of appeals properly held that the United States is liable to the Navajo Nation for up to $600 million in damages for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the Secretary's actions concerning an Indian mineral lease, without finding that the Secretary had violated any specific statutory or regulatory duty established pursuant to the IMLA. The Court rejects the Tribe's arguments that the Secretary's actions in this case violated discrete statutory and regulatory provisions whose breach is redressable in a damages action. Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

United States v. White Mountain Apache Tribe (No. 01-1067) 537 U.S. 465 (2003), affirmed and remanded
Syllabus | Opinion (Souter)| Dissent (Thomas) | Concurrence (Ginsburg)
Argued December 2, 2002 — Decided March 4, 2003
Does the Court of Federal Claims, under the Indian Tucker Act, have jurisdiction over the White Mountain Apache Tribe's suit against the United States for breach of fiduciary duty to manage land and improvements held in trust for the Tribe but occupied by the federal government? Yes. The Court held that Public Law 86-392 gives rise to Indian Tucker Act jurisdiction in the Court of Federal Claims over the Tribe's suit. The Court reasoned that, although the statute providing for the land to be held in trust imposed no duties on the United States to maintain the land, the occupation of such land by the United States raised a duty to preserve trust assets and that it naturally followed that the United States was liable in damages for the breach of such duties. Justice Clarence Thomas, with whom Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justice Antonin Scalia and Anthony M. Kennedy joined, dissented. Justice Thomas argued that the majority's opinion "radically alters the relevant inquiry from one focused on the actual fiduciary duties created by statute or regulation to one divining fiduciary duties out of the use of the word 'trust' and notions of factual control."  Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 2001-2002 term

Two Indian Law Decisions ware handed down in the 2001-2002 term.

United States v. Little Six Inc. (No. 00-111)
Decided April 22, 2002
Question Presented:  Does Section 20 (d) of IGRA, 25 U.S.C. § 2719(d), exempt Native American tribes from wagering excise and occupational taxes imposed by Sections 4401 and 4411 of IRC?  The Supreme Court vacated the judgment and the case was remanded to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit for further consideration in light of Chickasaw Nation v. United States. Holding Below: Little Six, Inc. and Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux (Dakota) Community v. United States 210 F.3d 1361 Fed. Cir. Court held that although tribal revenues from wagers placed on "pull-tab" games operated on Indian reservations are subject to federal excise tax and related occupational tax under Sections 4401 and 4411 of Internal Revenue Code, tribes are nevertheless exempt from such taxes under provision of Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 25 U.S.C. § 2719(d)(1), ambiguous language of which can reasonably be construed to exempt Indian pull-tab games from federal wagering taxes and therefore must, under Indian canon of construction, be construed in tribe's favor.

Chickasaw Nation v. United States (No. 00-507) 534 U.S. 84 (2001) (second judgment), affirmed
Syllabus | Opinion (Breyer) | Dissent (O'Connor)
Argued October 2, 2001 — Decided November 27, 2001
Question presented: Under applicable Indian law canons of statutory construction, does the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, by 25 U.S.C. 2719(d)(1)'s express incorporation of Chapter 35 of the Internal Revenue Code, confer on Indian tribes conducting gaming operations the same exemption from wagering taxes afforded to states by Chapter 35 of the Internal Revenue Code? The Supreme Court held that Section 2719(d)(i) does not exempt tribes from paying the gambling-related taxes that chapter 35 imposes. Transcripted Oral Argument (Real Audio)

There is one pending Indian law cases held over from 2001-2002 term.

Alaska v. United States, Docket No. 128 Original
Subjects: Submerged Lands and Wetlands
History: Motion for leave to file complaint granted 6/12/00. Proposed supplemental decree of 6/19/00 approved and entered 10/10/00. Special Master appointed 10/16/00. Motion for Alaska to file amended complaint granted 01/08/01. Amended complaint and answer are referred to the Special Master 3/5/01. Motion of Franklin H. James, et al., for leave to intervene is referred to the Special Master 4/30/01. Motion of the Special Master for fees and reimbursement of expenses is granted, and the Special Master is awarded a total of $12,963.14 for the period October 16, 2000 - April 16, 2001, to be paid equally by the parties 5/14/01.

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 2000-2001 term

Five Indian Law Decisions ware handed down in the 2000-2001 term.

Nevada, et. al. v. Hicks, Floyd, et. al. (No. 99-1994) 533 U.S. 353 (2001), reversed and remanded
Syllabus | Opinion (Scalia) | Concurrence (Souter) | Concurrence (Ginsburg) | Concurrence (O'Conner) | Concurrence (Stevens)
Argued March 21, 2001 — Decided June 25, 2001
May a tribal court assert jurisdiction over civil claims against state officials who entered tribal land to execute a search warrant against a tribe member suspected of having violated state law outside the reservation? No. A unanimous Court held that "[b]ecause the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone Tribes lacked legislative authority to restrict, condition, or otherwise regulate the ability of state officials to investigate off-reservation violations of state law, they also lacked adjudicative authority to hear respondent's claim that those officials violated tribal law in the performance of their duties. "[S]ince the lack of authority is clear," continued Scalia, "there is no need to exhaust the jurisdictional dispute in tribal court. State officials operating on a reservation to investigate off-reservation violations of state law are properly held accountable for tortious conduct and civil rights violations in either state or federal court, but not in tribal court." Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

Idaho v. United States, et. al. (No. 00-189) 533 U.S. 262 (2001), affirmed
Syllabus | Opinion (Souter) | Dissent (Rehnquist)
Argued April 23, 2001 — Decided June 18, 2001
Does the National Government hold title, in trust for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, to lands underlying portions of Lake Coeur d'Alene and the St. Joe River? Yes. The Court held that the National Government holds title, in trust for the Tribe, to lands underlying portions of Lake Coeur d'Alene and the St. Joe River. Justice Souter wrote for the Court that "Congress recognized the full extent of the Executive Order reservation lying within the stated boundaries it ultimately confirmed, and intended to bar passage to Idaho of title to the submerged lands at issue here." Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, with whom Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas joined, dissented. "Congress' desire to divest an entering State of its sovereign interest in submerged lands must be 'definitely declared or otherwise made very plain,'" argued Chief Justice Rehnquist, "That standard has not been met here." See Supreme Court to take on lake ownership (from Indianz.Com) Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

Atkinson Trading Co. v. Shirley (No. 00-454) 532 U.S. 645 (2001), reversed
Syllabus | Opinion (Rehnquist) | Concurrence (Souter)
Argued March 27, 2001 — Decided May 29, 2001
Does the rule in Montana v. United States, that, with limited exceptions, Indian tribes lack civil authority over the conduct of nonmembers on non-Indian fee land within a reservation, apply to tribal attempts to tax nonmember activity occurring on non-Indian fee land? Yes. In a unanimous opinion delivered by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the Court held that the Navajo Nation's imposition of a hotel occupancy tax upon nonmembers on non-Indian fee land within its reservation is invalid. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote that "Indian tribes are 'unique aggregations possessing attributes of sovereignty over both their members and their territory,' but their dependent status generally precludes extension of tribal civil authority beyond these limits. The Navajo Nation's imposition of a tax upon nonmembers on non-Indian fee land within the reservation is, therefore, presumptively invalid. Because respondents have failed to establish that the hotel occupancy tax is commensurately related to any consensual relationship with [Atkinson] or is necessary to vindicate the Navajo Nation's political integrity, the presumption ripens into a holding." See Supreme Court to take on taxation (from Indianz.Com) Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

C & L Enterprises, Inc. v. Citizen Band Potawatomi (No. 00-292) 532 U.S. 411 (2001), reversed and remanded
Syllabus | Opinion (Ginsburg)
Argued March 19, 2001 — Decided April 30, 2001
Does a federally recognized tribe waives its immunity from suit in state court when it expressly agrees to arbitrate disputes relating to a contract, to the governance of state law, and to the enforcement of arbitral awards in any court with proper jurisdiction? Yes. In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that "under the agreement the Tribe proposed and signed, the Tribe clearly consented to arbitration and to the enforcement of arbitral awards in Oklahoma state court; the Tribe thereby waived its sovereign immunity from C & L's suit." Justice Ginsburg wrote for the Court that "the Tribe agreed, by express contract, to adhere to certain dispute resolution procedures."
See Supreme Court to consider immunity (from Indianz.Com) Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

Dept of Interior v. Klamath Water Users Protect. Assoc. (No. 99-1871) 532 U.S. 1 (2001), affirmed
Syllabus | Opinion (Souter)
Argued January 10, 2001 — Decided March 5, 2001
Are documents shared between the Klamath and other Indian Tribes and the Department of the Interior, which address tribal interests subject to state and federal proceedings to determine water allocations, exempt from the disclosure requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, as " inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters?" No. In a unanimous opinion the Court ruled that there is no exemption under FOIA for the correspondence between the Tribes and the Bureau. Because the Klamath Tribe advocated its own positions in the water allocation proceedings, the communications between it and the Bureau did not equate to the role that personnel fulfils, in that personnel do not represent their own interests. Therefore, the documents were not exempt from public disclosure as inter-agency or intra-agency communications. "All of this boils down to requesting that we read an 'Indian trust' exemption into the statute, a reading that is out of the question," wrote Justice Souter for the Court. For more information on this decision, see Supreme Court Delivers Blow to Tribes (from Indianz.Com) Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 1999-2000 Term

Two Indian law cases were decided by the Supreme Court in the1999-2000 term.

Arizona v. California, 530 U.S. 392 (2000)
Syllabus | Opinion (Ginsburg) | Other (Rehnquist)
Argued April 25, 2000 — Decided June 19, 2000
Are the Quechan Tribe and the United States claims for increased water rights for the Fort Yuma Reservation from the Colorado River precluded by the Supreme Court's prior decision in Arizona v. California and by a consent judgement? No. The Court rejected both grounds for preclusion and remanded the case to a Special Master for a determination on the merits of the outstanding claims for additional water rights associated with disputed Fort Yuma Reservation boundary lands. "Those claims are the only ones that remain to be decided in Arizona v. California; their resolution will enable the Court to enter a final consolidated decree and bring this case to a close," wrote Justice Ginsburg for the Court. Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

Rice v. Cayetano (No. 98-818) 528 U.S. 495 (2000), reversed
Syllabus | Opinion (Kennedy) | Concurrence (Breyer) | Dissent (Stevens) | Dissent (Ginsburg)
Argued October 6, 1999 — Decided February 23, 2000
Does the Hawaiian Constitutional provision, which limits the right to for the trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to qualified "Hawaiians," violate the Fifteenth Amendment by creating a race-based voting qualification? Yes. The Court held that "Hawaii's denial of Rice's right to vote in OHA trustee elections violates the Fifteenth Amendment," in creating a race-based voting qualification. "A state may not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, and this law does so," Justice Kennedy wrote for the Court. The court rejected the state's argument that the voting limitation was one based on ancestry, not race. In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for himself and Ruth Bader Ginsburg that the majority's decision "rests largely on the repetition of glittering generalities that have little, if any, application to the compelling history of the state of Hawaii." Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 1998-1999 Term

Four Indian law cases were decided by the Supreme Court in the 1998-1999 term.

Amoco Production Company v. Southern Ute Indian Tribe (No. 98-830), 526 U.S. 865 (1999), reversed
Syllabus | Opinion (Kennedy) | Dissent (Ginsburg)
Argued April 19, 1999 — Decided June 7, 1999
The term "coal" as used in the 1909 and 1910 Coal Land Acts does not encompass coalbed methane (CBM) gas, and, therefore, the defendant royalty owners and producers are entitled to summary judgment against the Tribe which had asserted ownership of the CBM gas. Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

El Paso Natural Gas Co. v. Neztsosie (No. 98-6) 526 U.S. 473 (1999), vacated and remanded
Syllabus | Opinion (Souter)
Argued March 2, 1999 — Decided May 3, 1999
Do tribal courts have the authority to determine its own jurisdiction over damage actions stemming from nuclear incidents under the Price-Anderson Act, which grants federal district courts removal jurisdiction over such actions? No. In a unanimous opinion, the Court held that requiring a district court to stay its hand while a tribal court determines its own jurisdiction, or the doctrine of tribal court exhaustion, does not apply in this case, which if brought in a state court would be subject to removal. "By the Price-Anderson Act's unusual preemption provision Congress expressed an unmistakable preference for a federal forum, at the behest of the defending party," wrote Justice Souter. Transcripted Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians (No. 97-1337) 526 U.S. 172 (1999), affirmed
Syllabus | Opinion (O’Connor) | Dissent (Rehnquist) | Dissent (Thomas)
Argued December 2, 1998 — Decided March 24, 1999
In a 5-4 decision, the U. S. Supreme Court affirmed an 8th Circuit decision which held that the Chippewa retained usufructuary rights to hunt, fish, and gather guaranteed to them under an 1837 treaty with respect to land located in the State of Minnesota. Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

Arizona Department of Revenue v. Blaze Construction Co., Inc. (No. 97-1536), 526 U.S. 32 (1999), reversed and remanded
Syllabus | Opinion (Thomas)
Argued December 8, 1998 — Decided March 2, 1999
May a state impose a nondiscriminatory tax upon a private company's proceeds from contracts with the Federal Government when the federal contractor renders its services on an Indian reservation? Yes. In a unanimous opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that a "State generally may impose a nondiscriminatory tax upon a private company's proceeds from contracts with the Federal Government, regardless of whether the federal contractor renders its services on an Indian reservation." Justice Thomas wrote for the Court that, "[a]bsent a constitutional immunity or congressional exemption, federal law does not shield Blaze (a federal contractor) from Arizona's transaction privilege tax."  Oral Argument (Real Audio) Oral Opinion (RealAudio)

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 1997-1998 Term

Six Indian law cases were decided by the Supreme Court in the 1997-1998 term.

Cass County, MN, et al. v. Leech Lake Band Of Chippewa Indians (No. 97-174), 524 U.S. 103 (1998), reversed in part
Syllabus | Opinion (Thomas)
Argued February 24, 1998 — Decided June 8, 1998
May state and local governments tax reservation land that was made alienable by Congress and sold to non-Indians by the Federal Government but was later repurchased by a tribe? In a unanimous opinion the Court held that ad valorem taxes may be imposed upon such land. "When Congress makes Indian reservation land freely alienable, it manifests an unmistakably clear intent to render such land subject to state and local taxation," wrote Justice Thomas. Repurchasing the land by an Indian tribe does not return the land to tax-exempt status. Justice Thomas concluded that "[t]he eight parcels at issue here were therefore taxable unless and until they were restored to federal trust protection." Oral Argument (Real Audio)

Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma v. Manufacturing Technologies, Inc. (No. 96-1037), 523 U.S. 751 (1998), reversed
Syllabus | Opinion (Kennedy) | Dissent (Stevens)
Argued January 12, 1998 — Decided May 26, 1998
May Indian tribes be sued in state courts for breaches of contract involving off-reservation commercial conduct? The Court held that Indian tribes enjoy sovereign immunity from civil suits on contracts, whether those contracts involve governmental or commercial activities and whether they were made on or off a reservation. Noting that an Indian tribe is subject to suit only where Congress has authorized the suit or the tribe has waived its immunity, Justice Kennedy deferred to Congress, which has not abrogated a tribe's immunity from civil suits on contracts. In a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined, Justice John Paul Stevens argued that the Court should consider "whether a tribe is immune from a suit that has no meaningful nexus to the Tribe's land or its sovereign functions." Transcripted Oral Argument (Real Audio)

Montana v. Crow Tribe of Indians (No. 96-1829), 523 U.S. 696 (1998), reversed and remanded
Syllabus | Opinion (Ginsburg) | Other (Souter)
Argued February 24, 1998 — Decided May 18, 1998
Is the restitution sought for the Crow Tribe from the State of Montana for the illegal collection of taxes and coal mined on the Tribe's reservation warranted? No. The Court held that the restitution sought for the Tribe of all severance and gross proceeds taxes paid by Westmoreland to Montana and certain counties, before the tribe's severance tax became valid, was not warranted. The Court decision was based on findings that Westmoreland had forfeited its entitlement to a refund, that neither the state nor the tribe enjoyed authority to tax to the total exclusion of the other, and that the tribe could not have taxed the company during the periods in question. The Court also concluded that the District Court had ruled properly where the tribe and the U.S. had argued for total disgorgement rather than a different form of relief. In a partial dissent in which Justice Sandra Day O'Connor joined, Justice David H. Souter argued that nothing disentitled the tribe at least to press for disgorgement of some or all of Montana's tax revenues. Oral Argument (Real Audio)

Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government, et al. (No. 96-1577), 522 U.S. 520 (1998), reversed
Syllabus | Opinion (Thomas)
Argued December 10, 1997 — Decided February 25, 1998
Is the land owned by the Native Village of Venetie Tribal Government "Indian country" pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act? No. In a unanimous opinion delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court held that the Tribe's land is not "Indian country." "As noted, only one Indian reservation, the Annette Island Reserve, survived ANCSA," explained Justice Thomas in a footnote, [o]ther Indian country exists in Alaska post-ANCSA only if the land in question meets the requirements of a 'dependent Indian community' under our interpretation of [18 USC section 1151 (b)], or if it constitutes 'allotments' under [18 USC section 1151 (c)]." "The Tribe's ANCSA lands do not satisfy either of these requirements," concluded Justice Thomas, "[a]fter the enactment of ANCSA, the Tribe's lands are neither 'validly set apart for the use of the Indians as such,' nor are they under the superintendence of the Federal Government." Transcripted Oral Argument (Real Audio)

South Dakota v. Yankton Sioux Tribe (No. 96-1581), 522 U.S. 329 (1998), reversed and remanded
Syllabus | Opinion (O'Connor)
Argued December 8, 1997 — Decided January 26, 1998
Did Congress diminish the boundaries of the Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota in an 1894 statute that ratified an agreement pursuant to the Dawes Act, which permitted the Government to open reservation land to non-Indian settlement? Yes. In a unanimous opinion delivered by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the Court held that the 1894 statute's operative language and the circumstances surrounding its passage demonstrate that Congress intended to diminish the Yankton Reservation and as a result the unallotted lands ceded did not retain reservation status. Consequently, because the unallotted lands included the landfill site, which no longer constituted Indian country as defined by 18 USCS 1151(a), South Dakota has primary jurisdiction over the lands. Noting the repudiation of allotment philosophy, Justice O'Connor wrote that, "we must give effect to Congress' intent in passing the 1894 Act. Here... we believe that Congress spoke clearly, and although 'some might wish [it] had spoken differently... we cannot remake history.'" Transcripted Oral Argument (Real Audio)

Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho (No. 94-1474), 521 U.S. 261 (1997)
Syllabus | Opinion (Kennedy) | Concurrence (O'Connor) | Dissent (Souter)
Argued October 16, 1996 — Decided June 23, 1997
May Indian Tribes proceed with suits against state officials in light of the sovereign immunity provided by the Eleventh Amendment? No. The Court ruled that the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's suit against the state officials may not proceed in federal court because States enjoy Eleventh Amendment immunity in suits filed by Indian tribes. Justice Kennedy concluded, "the present suit is barred unless it falls within the exception this Court has recognized for certain suits seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against state officers in their individual capacities."

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 1996-1997 Term

Two Indian Law Decisions were handed down this term.

Strate, et al. v. A-1 Contractors, et al. (No. 95-1872), 520 U.S. 438 (1997)
Syllabus | Opinion (Ginsburg)
Argued January 7, 1997 — Decided April 28, 1997
Does a tribal court have jurisdiction over a civil action against an allegedly negligent driver and the driver's employer, neither of whom is a member of the tribe, when an accident occurs on a portion of a public highway maintained by the State under a federally granted right of way over Indian reservation land? No. In an unanimous decision, the Court ruled that when an accident occurs on a public highway maintained by the State pursuant to a federally granted right of way over Indian reservation land, a civil action against allegedly negligent nonmembers falls within state or federal regulatory and adjudicatory governance; absent a statute or treaty authorizing the tribe to govern the conduct of nonmembers driving on the State's highway, tribal courts may not exercise jurisdiction in such cases. Oral Argument (Real Audio)

Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior et al. v. Youpee, Sr., et al. (No. 95-1595), 519 U.S. 234 (1997)
Syllabus | Opinion (Ginsburg) | Dissent (Stevens)
Argued December 2, 1996 — Decided January 21, 1997
Although amended by the U.S. Congress to address possible constitutional infirmities prior to the Court's ruling in Hodel v. Irving, 481 U.S. 704 (1987), the Court holds that the 1984 amendments to the Indian Land Consolidation Act so severely restrict the right of an individual to direct the descent of his property as to constitute a Fifth Amendment taking of property without just compensation. Transcripted Oral Argument (Real Audio)

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 1995-1996 Term

One Indian Law Decision was handed down this term.

Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, et al. (No. 94-12), 517 U.S. 44 (1996)
Syllabus | Opinion (Rehnquist) | Dissent (Stevens) | Dissent (Souter)
Argued: October 11, 1995 Decided: March 27, 1996
The Court held that under the U.S. Constitution's Indian commerce clause, the U.S. Congress does not have the power to abrogate the states' Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity from suit; the Court overrules its decision in Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co., 491 U.S. 1; and the Court further holds that the Eleventh Amendment prevents Congress from authorizing suits in federal court by Indian tribes against states to enforce the provision in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) requiring states to negotiate in good faith. Oral Argument

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 1994-1995 Term

One Indian Law Decision was handed down this term.

Oklahoma Tax Comm'n v. Chickasaw Nation (No. 94-771), 515 U.S. 450 (1995)
Syllabus | Opinion (Ginsburg) | Other (Breyer)
Argued April 24, 1995 — Decided June 14, 1995
Absent clear congressional authorization, a State is without power to tax reservation lands and reservation Indians. If it is a tribe or tribal members inside Indian country who bear the tax burden, the tax cannot be enforced absent federal legislation permitting it. The motor fuels tax issue is determined by whether the tax rests on the Tribe as retailer, on the wholesaler who sells to the Tribe or the consumer who buys from the Tribe. The Court of Appeals' ruling that the fuels tax's legal incidence rests on the retailer is reasonable and the tax cannot be applied. On the income tax issue, Oklahoma may tax the income of tribal members who work for the Tribe but reside in the State outside Indian Country.

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 1993-1994 Term

One Indian Law Decision was handed down this term.

Hagen v. Utah (No. 92-6281), 510 U.S. 399 (1994)
Syllabus | Opinion (O'Connor) | Dissent (Blackmun)
Argued November 2, 1993 — Decided February 23, 1994
Petitioner, an Indian, was charged in state court with distribution of a controlled substance in the town of Myton, which lies within the original boundaries of the Uintah Indian Reservation on land that was opened to non-Indian settlement in 1905. Because the Uintah Reservation has been diminished by Congress, the town of Myton is not in Indian country and the Utah courts properly exercised criminal jurisdiction.

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 1992-1993 Term

Four Indian Law Decisions were handed down this term.

South Dakota v. Bourland (No. 91-2051), 508 U.S. 679 (1993)
Syllabus | Opinion (Thomas) | Dissent (Blackmun)
Argued March 2, 1993 — Decided June 14, 1993
Congress, in the Flood Control and Cheyenne River Acts, abrogated the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe's rights under the Fort Laramie Treaty to regulate non-Indian hunting and fishing on lands taken by the United States for construction of the Oahe Dam and Reservoir.

Lincoln v. Vigil (No. 91-1833), 508 U.S. 182 (1993)
Syllabus | Opinion (Souter)
Argued March 3, 1993 — Decided May 24, 1993
The Indian Health Service receives yearly lump-sum appropriations from Congress, and had funded the Indian Children's Program, which provided clinical services to handicapped Indian children in the Southwest. In 1985, the Service announced that it was discontinuing direct clinical services under the Program in order to establish a nationwide treatment program. Respondents, Indian children eligible to receive services under the Program, filed this action alleging, inter alia, violation of the federal trust responsibility to Indians, and the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause. The Court held that it is a fundamental principle of appropriations law that where Congress merely appropriates lump-sum amounts without statutory restriction, a clear inference may be drawn that it does not intend to impose legally binding restrictions. As long as the agency allocates the funds to meet permissible statutory objectives, courts may not intrude.

Oklahoma Tax Comm'n v. Sac & Fox Nation (No. 92-259), 508 U.S. 114 (1993)
Syllabus | Opinion (O'Connor)
Argued March 23, 1993 — Decided May 17, 1993
The Sac and Fox Nation brought this action seeking a permanent injunction barring petitioner Oklahoma Tax Commission from, among other things, taxing the income of tribal members who work or reside within tribal jurisdiction, and imposing the State's motor vehicle excise tax and registration fees on tribal members who live and garage their cars principally on tribal land and register those cars with the Tribe. Absent explicit congressional direction to the contrary, it must be presumed that a State does not have jurisdiction to tax tribal members who live and work in Indian country, whether the particular territory consists of a formal or informal reservation, allotted lands, or dependent Indian communities.

Negonsott v. Samuels (No. 91-5397), 507 U.S. 99 (1993)
Syllabus | Opinion (Rehnquist)
Argued January 11, 1993 — Decided February 24, 1993
A member of the Kickapoo Tribe, and a resident of reservation, was convicted by state jury for shooting another Indian on the reservation. A lower court set aside the conviction on the ground of exclusive federal jurisdiction to prosecute under the Indian Major Crimes Act, 18 U. S. C. 1153. The Court restored the conviction, ruling that the Kansas Act explicitly confers jurisdiction on Kansas over all offenses involving Indians on Indian reservations. Congress has plenary authority to alter the otherwise exclusive nature of federal jurisdiction and has done so by that Act.

No Indian Law Decisions were handed down in 1991-1992 term.

U.S. Supreme Court Indian Law Decisions 1990-1991 Term

Two Indian Law Decisions were handed down this term.

Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak (No. 89-1782), 501 U.S. 775 (1991)
Syllabus | Opinion (Scalia) | Dissent (Blackmun, Marshall, Stevens)
Argued February 19, 1991 — Decided June 24, 1991
Several Alaska Native villages, brought suit seeking an order requiring payment to them of money allegedly owed under a state revenue-sharing statute. The Court ruled that the Eleventh Amendment bars suits by Indian tribes against States without their consent. The argument that traditional principles of sovereign immunity restrict suits only by individuals, and not by other sovereigns, was rejected.

Oklahoma Tax Comm'n v. Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian Tribe of Okla. (No. 89-1322), 498 U.S. 505 (1991)
Syllabus | Opinion (Rehnquist) | Concurrence (Stevens)
Argued January 7, 1991 — Decided February 26, 1991
For many years, the Tribe sold cigarettes at a convenience store that it owned and operated in Oklahoma on land held in trust for it by the Federal Government. It has never collected state cigarette tax on these sales. In 1987, the Oklahoma Tax Commission served the Tribe with an assessment letter, demanding that it pay taxes on cigarette sales occurring between 1982 and 1986. Under the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity, a State may not tax sales of goods to tribesmen occurring on land held in trust for a federally recognized Indian tribe, but is free to collect taxes on such sales to nonmembers of the tribe. The Tribe did not waive its inherent sovereign immunity from suit merely by seeking an injunction against the tax assessment.

The National Indian Law Library has an excellent section on Supreme Court Cases including:

Supreme Court Decision Search

Search for the following U.S. Supreme Court Decisions at the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School.

All audio links on this page link directly to the The OYEZ Project, which provides access to more than 2000 hours of Supreme Court audio. All audio in the Court recorded since 1995 is included in the project. Before 1995, the audio collection is selective. It remains the aim of the OYEZ Project to create a complete and authoritative archive of Supreme Court audio covering the entire span from October 1955 through the most recent release.

U. S. Courts of Appeals

The 94 U.S. judicial districts are organized into 12 regional circuits, each of which has a United States court of appeals. A court of appeals hears appeals from the district courts located within its circuit, as well as appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies. In addition, the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals in specialized cases, such as those involving patent laws and cases decided by the Court of International Trade and the Court of Federal Claims.

The Oklahoma State University Library Electronic Publishing Center has digitized Volumes 30-43 of the Indian Claims Commission Decisions. The National Indian Law Library contains a complete set of all volumes from this set with a variety of indexes. Created by Congress in 1946 to adjudicate Indian claims against the United States, the Indian Claims Commission awarded more than a half billion dollars before its expiration almost 33 years later in 1978. It also created hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, most of which have significant historical research value.

Interior Board of Indian Appeals decisions have been posted from its inception in 1970 through January 29, 2004 (this is an unofficial site and is not associated in any way with the Department of the Interior).

The University of Oklahoma Law Center  and the National Indian Law Library (NILL) have posted Opinions of the Solicitor of the Department of the Interior relating to Indian Affairs (1917-1974).

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