Eighth Circuit Affirms Injunction against South Dakota Ban on Native Prisoner Tobacco Use

Here is the opinion in Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber. An excerpt:

In this appeal, we consider the South Dakota Department of Corrections’ (“SDDOC”) decision to prohibit tobacco use by Native American inmates during religious activities. In 2009, the Native American Council of Tribes (“NACT”) and South Dakota Native American inmates Blaine Brings Plenty and Clayton Creek (collectively “inmates”) brought suit against 1 prison officials from the SDDOC (collectively “defendants”)2 claiming that the tobacco ban substantially burdened the exercise of their religious beliefs in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1(a). After a three-day bench trial, the district court granted 3 injunctive relief to the inmates and directed the parties confer regarding a revised tobacco policy. On failure to agree, the district court entered a remedial order that, among other things, limited the proportion of tobacco in the mixture distributed to inmates for religious purposes to no more than one percent. The defendants appeal the grant of injunctive relief, including the remedial order. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.

Briefs here:

South Dakota Opening Brief

Native American Council Brief

US Amicus Brief

South Dakota Reply Brief

Lower court materials are here and here.

Other posts are here, here, and here.


Update in South Dakota Prisoner Litigation– No Stay on Appeal and Attorney Fees Award

Here are the new materials in Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber (D. S.D.):

DCT Order on Stay and Attorney Fees

Prior materials are here, here, here, and here.

Remedial Order re: South Dakota Prison Ban on Tobacco

The case, once again, is Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber (D. S.D.):

DCT Remedial Order

The court previously issued an order explaining how the ban violates federal religious freedom rights here.

Since the prison system could not agree with the prisoners on a way to craft an injunction, Judge Schreier simply issued an order stating, “[D]efendants are enjoined from banning tobacco used during Native American religious ceremonies.”


South Dakota American Indian Prisoners Prove State Ban on Tobacco Violates Religious Freedom Rights

Here are the materials in Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber (D. S.D.):

Plaintiffs’ Post-Trial Brief

South Dakota Post-Trial Brief

Plaintiffs’ Post-Trial Reply

US Statement of Interest

South Dakota Response to US

DCT Order Finding Violation

Earlier materials on this case were here.

DOJ Joins Plaintiffs in Challenge to South Dakota Ban on Indian Prisoner Use of Tobacco

Here is that brief:

US Statement of Interest

The parties’ initial post-trial briefs are here:

Brings Plenty Post-Trial Brief

South Dakota Post-Trial Brief

Our prior post is here.

News coverage (h/t A.E.).

ICT: American Indian Prisoners’ Religious Freedom Rights


An excerpt:

To be clear, Native inmates “do not forfeit all constitutional protections by reason of their conviction and confinement in prison.” Bell v. Wolfish (1979). Rather, they enjoy free exercise rights protected by the federal First Amendment. Pell v. Procunier (1974). Despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1987 that supplanted the longstanding strict scrutiny basis for review with a “legitimate penological interest”-test, Turner v. Safley (1987), restrictions on Native prisoner religious practices such as sweat lodge ceremonies have been held to unlawfully infringe upon such a prisoner’s right to “free exercise” of religion. See e.g. Thomas v. Gunter (8th Cir. 1994). Further, some state constitutions, like Washington State’s, afford more protection for religious freedoms than the federal First Amendment. First Covenant Church v. City of Seattle (1992).

In 2000, Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), to restore the strict scrutiny test for prisoner religious freedom claims. Under RLUIPA, a prison cannot substantially burden an inmate’s religious exercise unless the imposition of the burden on that person “is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and is the “least restrictive means” of furthering that interest. Ahmad v. Furlong (10th Cir. 2006). Accordingly, federal courts have affirmed the rights of Native prisoners to use tobacco for religious ceremonies, Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber (D.S.D. 2011), and to participate in talking circles and pipe and drum ceremonies, Meyer v. Teslik (W.D. Wis. 2006).

As an overlay, the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (AIRFA) of 1978 announced the United States policy to “protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions.” Although AIRFA does not create a cause of action,” Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protection Assoc. (1988), the law has been cited as persuasive authority in a number of cases concerning the religious rights of America’s first peoples—including those who live behind bars.

In sum, RLUIPA, possibly coupled with state rather than federal constitutional claims, affords Native prisoners the strongest basis to challenge a state restriction on their exercise of Indian religion.

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Government Summary Judgment Motion Denied in Challenge to S. Dakota Prison Ban on Tobacco

Here is the opinion in Native American Council of Tribes v. Weber (D. S.D.):

NA Council of Tribes v Weber

Summary judgment is denied on plaintiffs’ RLUIPA claim because genuine issues of material fact exist on whether defendants’ October 2009 policy substantially burdens plaintiffs’ religious exercise. Summary judgment is also denied on plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment claims because defendants offer no argument as to why summary judgment is appropriate on those claims. Summary judgment is granted on the AIRFA claim because AIRFA does not create an independent cause of action. Summary judgment is also granted on plaintiffs’ international law claims because the customary law claim is vague, the genocide claim lacks a factual basis, and the United Nations Charter claim does not create an individual cause of action.