Brent Leonhard on PL 280 Retrocession in Washington State

M. Brent Leonhard has posted his paper, “Returning Washington PL 280 Jurisdiction to its Original Consent-Based Grounds,” on SSRN . It is forthcoming in the Gonzaga Law Review.

Here is the abstract:

When enacted in 1953, President Eisenhower expressed “grave doubts” about provisions of Public Law 83-280 (PL 280) that allowed a state to assert jurisdiction over Indian country without tribal consent. Consistent with President Eisenhower’s doubts, the State of Washington enacted legislation in 1957 to assert PL 280 jurisdiction over Indian country provided a tribe requested the State exercise such power. However, in 1963 the State amended its law and baldly asserted limited PL 280 jurisdiction over all of Indian country regardless of tribal consent. Five years later, recognizing the inappropriateness of non-consensual assertions of state authority over tribes, the federal government amended PL 280 in 1968 to require tribal consent and to create a path for retrocession of state authority. Despite changes in federal law, the State of Washington has never acted to rectify its assertion non-consensual authority over tribal nations.

In the 2011 Washington legislative session a joint executive-legislative workgroup on tribal retrocession was formed to study the desirability of enacting a law that would require the State to retrocede PL 280 jurisdiction back to the federal government when specifically requested by an affected tribe. This paper advocates for such changes in Washington’s law, which would effectively return the law to its original consent-based grounds. In doing so, it explains how Indian country criminal jurisdiction would work with such changes, how it currently works under PL 280 generally and Washington specifically, and why a mandatory retrocession provision ought to be adopted for both moral and pragmatic reasons.