By Austin Vance, starting on page 12, here.
It was a busy 2018 Term at the Supreme Court. Here are the top cases (although the top case is not a Supreme Court case):
1. Brackeen v. Bernhardt — This has to be the top case, even beating out three Supreme Court cases. Foundational doctrines of Indian law are at stake, state governments are facing off against the United States, and virtually every Indian tribe has affirmed support for the Indian Child Welfare Act. After expedited briefing and argument, the Fifth Circuit reversed a decision striking down ICWA. Now the court will rehear Brackeen en banc.
2. Sharp v. Murphy (formerly Carpenter v. Murphy) — This case captured the attention of Indian country more for the procedural drama (never thought those two words would ever go together) than the merits. A death penalty appeal in which the parties (state, tribe, guy-on-death-row, and US) barely mention that fact, Murphy is a reservation boundaries case that makes for exciting, if not accurate, media (Oklahoma could return to Indian reservation status!). The parties sparred at oral argument, the Court asked for more briefing, the This Land podcast went national, the end of the Term approached, and then . . . nothing. The apparent 4-4 tie of the justices led the Court to push the case to the next Term, and then more nothing. Now the Court has granted cert in McGirt v. Oklahoma, likely to decide the same issues as Murphy but with a full complement of judges.
3. Herrera v. Wyoming — The Court ruled 5-4 that the 1868 treaty right to hunt on unoccupied lands applied to the lands of the Bighorn National Forest. The Court also conclusively overruled Ward v. Racehorse, an ancient decision holding that statehood could abrogate treaty rights.
4. Washington State Dept. of Licensing v. Cougar Den — The Court ruled 5-4, but with no majority opinion, that a treaty right to travel on highways preempted a state tax on fuels moving through grounds transportation (or alternatively, granted a right to move goods without state interference).
The rest of the cases are lower court matters ranked by number of views on Turtle Talk. Here they are:
5. Williams v. Big Picture Loans — The Fourth Circuit ruled that tribal sovereign immunity applies to tribally owned businesses that conduct internet lending operations.
6. Swinomish Tribe v. BNSF — This case is pending before the Ninth Circuit. It received outsized attention because of an order by the panel to BNSF requiring it to explain how its characterization of legal authorities, the record, and the arguments of the tribe met its duty of candor to the court.
7. Free v. Dellinger — This case in the Western District of Oklahoma sought an order enjoining tribal jurisdiction over a nonmember. The case likely received a bunch of hits because that nonmember was Kalyn Free.
8. Davilla v. Enable Midstream Partners — The Tenth Circuit last January ordered the defendant to remove a pipeline from Indian lands.
9. Spurr v. Pope — The Sixth Circuit affirmed tribal court jurisdiction to issue a civil PPO against a nonmember under the 2013 VAWA tribal jurisdictional provisions.
10. FMC Corp. v. Shoshone-Bannock Tribes — The Ninth Circuit affirmed tribal jurisdiction over a nonmember, confirming a tribal court judgment involving millions. FMC was represented by a noted SCT practitioner, so expect a serious Supreme Court challenge in 2020.
Norika L. Kida Betti and Cameron Ann Fraser have published “Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act at Seven Years” in the November 2019 issue of the Michigan Bar Journal.
October 23-25, 2019
The Fifth Circuit overturned the Northern District of Texas today with strong language supporting ICWA. The Court found that the plaintiffs did have standing, but found against them on all other counts. There is a dissent forthcoming from Judge Owens.
We begin by determining whether ICWA’s definition of “Indian child” is a race-based or political classification and, consequently, which level of scrutiny applies. The district court concluded that ICWA’s “Indian Child” definition was a race-based classification. We conclude that this was error.
We disagree with the district court’s reasoning and conclude that Mancari controls here. As to the district court’s first distinction, Mancari’s holding does not rise or fall with the geographical location of the Indians receiving “special treatment.”
We examine the constitutionality of the challenged provisions of ICWA below and conclude that they preempt conflicting state law and do not violate the anticommandeering doctrine.
We find this argument unpersuasive. It is well established that tribes have “sovereignty over both their members and their territory.” See Mazurie, 419 U.S. at 557 (emphasis added)”
For a tribe to exercise its authority to determine tribal membership and to regulate domestic relations among its members, it must necessarily be able to regulate all Indian children, irrespective of their location.
Authority to Issue Regulations
Here, section 1952’s text is substantially similar to the language in Mourning, and the Final Rule’s binding standards for Indian child custody proceedings are reasonably related to ICWA’s purpose of establishing minimum federal standards in child custody proceedings involving Indian children. See 25 U.S.C. § 1902. Thus, the Final Rule is a reasonable exercise of the broad authority granted to the BIA by Congress in ICWA section 1952.
For these reasons, we conclude that Plaintiffs had standing to bring all claims and that ICWA and the Final Rule are constitutional because they are based on a political classification that is rationally related to the fulfillment of Congress’s unique obligation toward Indians; ICWA preempts conflicting state laws and does not violate the Tenth Amendment anticommandeering doctrine; and ICWA and the Final Rule do not violate the nondelegation doctrine. We also conclude that the Final Rule implementing the ICWA is valid because the ICWA is constitutional, the BIA did not exceed its authority when it issued the Final Rule, and the agency’s interpretation of ICWA section 1915 is reasonable.
American Indian Children and the Law by Kathryn “Kate” E. Fort, Director of the Indian Law Clinic at Michigan State University College of Law, is now available. Click here to order.
“Introduction: This casebook is the result of years of discussions with Native lawyers, law students, families, tribal leaders, and professors. Because Native children and families continue to be the subject of constant litigation and federal policy changes, this book changed dramatically in the years as it was being written. The actions of federal and state governments against Native children — removing them from their families, culture, language, and communities — has had far ranging implications for generations of families. This casebook discusses the consequences of those actions and the tribal responses to them.”