Tenth Circuit Sides with Ute Indian Tribe in Dispute with State and Counties over Indian Country Criminal Jurisdiction

Here is the opinion in Ute Indian Tribe v. State of Utah:


An excerpt:

In our layered system of trial and appellate courts everyone’s assured at least two chances to air a grievance. Add to this the possibility that a lawsuit might bounce back to the trial court on remand or even rebound its way to appeal yet again — or the possibility that an issue might win interlocutory review — and the opportunities to press a complaint grow abundantly. No doubt our complex and consuming litigation wringer has assumed the shape it has so courts might squeeze as much truth as possible out of the parties’ competing narratives. But sooner or later every case must come to an end. After all, that’s why people bring their disputes to court in the first place: because the legal system promises to resolve their differences without resort to violence and supply “peace and repose” at the end of it all. S. Pac. R.R. Co. v. United States, 168 U.S. 1, 49 (1897). For a legal system to meet this promise, of course, both sides must accept — or, if need be, they must be made to respect — the judgments it generates. Most people know and readily assent to all this. So it’s pretty surprising when a State and several of its counties need a reminder. But that’s what this appeal is all about.


A system of law that places any value on finality — as any system of law worth its salt must — cannot allow intransigent litigants to challenge settled decisions year after year, decade after decade, until they wear everyone else out. Even — or perhaps especially — when those intransigent litigants turn out to be public officials, for surely those charged with enforcing the law should know this much already. Though we are mindful of the importance of comity and cooperative federalism and keenly sensitive to our duty to provide appropriate respect for and deference to state proceedings, we are equally aware of our obligation to defend the law’s promise of finality. And the case for finality here is overwhelming. The defendants may fervently believe that Ute V drew the wrong boundaries, but that case was resolved nearly twenty years ago, the Supreme Court declined to disturb its judgment, and the time has long since come for the parties to accept it.

Briefs here.

4 thoughts on “Tenth Circuit Sides with Ute Indian Tribe in Dispute with State and Counties over Indian Country Criminal Jurisdiction

  1. bignuba June 18, 2015 / 11:49 am

    Good discussion of tribal vs. state jurisdiction. In North Dakota, the tribes have strongly resisted states attempts to usurp tribal authority. In l960-70s Indians were jailed and forced to clean the streets in New Town, ND. Then, tribal member attorney Hans Walker Jr. lead the charge at Ft Berthold Indian Res. This led to court cases, which all upheld tribal authority – even in a so called “homestead area.”

  2. Victoria Wyasket June 19, 2015 / 1:57 am

    We won! The State of Utah and the United States Government have been trying for years and years and years to steal our water and our reservation land. Read our treaty, we were given all our land and water by treaty. You, the State of Utah will never learn. This land is ours and we will never give it up and we will never give you our water rights…NEVER!!!!

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