Supreme Court & Indian Law

The Supreme Court issued its first order of the October 2007 Term last week — containing no Indian law grants, as I blogged elsewhere.

Today, the Court issued an order listing cert. denials, including Catawba Indian Tribe v. South Carolina (No. 07-69), Gros Ventre Tribe v. United States (06-1672), and Yakama v. Colville (No. 06-1588).

So what does this mean? By itself, I suppose it means nothing. But the Catawba and Gros Ventre cases were cases in which the tribal interests were petitioning (and the other case was an intertribal conflict) against a state and the federal government, respectively. A Court hostile to tribal interests would leave those cases alone.

With this round of cert. denials, keep in mind that the last time the S. Ct. granted cert. in an Indian law case was Wagnon v. Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation — and two “Westerners,” Rehnquist, C.J. and O’Connor, J., were still Members of the Court. Since then, the Court has denied cert. in something like 60 straight Indian law cases.

For background on my theory about how it matters that “Westerners” used to sit on the Supreme Court in the context of cert. petitions, see my editorial in Indian Country Today.

Of course, the editorial has an incorrect statement (my own fault) — for a few years in the early 1990s, there were four Westerners on the Court — Rehnquist, O’Connor, White, Kennedy.