Update on Carcieri Fix?

From How Appealing:

“Tribal-rights advocates seek ‘fix’ in Congress”: The Providence (R.I.) Journal today contains an article that begins, “Tribal-rights advocates came in force to Capitol Hill Tuesday to ask Congress to undo last year’s Supreme Court ruling that made it harder for Native Americans to set their own rules for the use of certain lands — including the Rhode Island parcel at issue in the decision.”

More at Indianz.

ICT Editorial on Carcieri

From ICT:

Decision’s in. ‘Now’ begins work to fix Carcieri

The Supreme Court’s Feb. 24 decision in Carcieri v. Salazar is a significant defeat for the Narragansett Tribe, and perhaps for hundreds of other Indian tribes not federally recognized in 1934. Carcieri seemingly overturns the Department of Interior’s 70-year-plus practice of taking land into trust for Indian tribes federally recognized after 1934. But while the decision will be disruptive and expensive for Indian tribes affected, it might not be utterly devastating.

Carcieri held that the secretary has no authority to take land into trust for the Narragansetts because they are not an eligible Indian tribe as defined by the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act. Only tribes that meet the definition of “Indian tribe” under the IRA are eligible for the fee to trust benefit; in other words, according to the court, tribes that were “under federal jurisdiction” on June 1, 1934. The secretary of the interior did not recognize the Narragansett Tribe as an Indian tribe at that time, and so the court held that the secretary may not take land into trust for the tribe under the IRA. The court’s cramped reading of “now” is the worst kind of judicial formalism, like that recently critiqued by Professor Alex Skibine in the American Indian Law Review.

It is important to parse out exactly which tribes – and which land parcels – are affected by this decision. First, Indian lands already in trust with the secretary of the interior are safe, because the United States already owns the land and is immune from a suit seeking to reverse a fee to trust acquisition. That means tribes operating business enterprises on trust land will be protected by the federal government’s immunity. Second, Indian tribes such as the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians with special statutes authorizing the secretary to take land into trust for them, usually as a result of a congressional recognition act or land claims settlement act, also are exempted.

The Supreme Court’s Feb. 24 decision in Carcieri v. Salazar is a significant defeat for the Narragansett Tribe, and perhaps for hundreds of other Indian tribes not federally recognized in 1934.

Interestingly, the final paragraph in Justice Clarence Thomas’ majority opinion – a major litigation-starter – appears to assume that the Carcieri case is limited to its facts, and therefore only applies to the Narragansett Tribe. The concurring opinions from Justices Stephen Breyer and David Souter, as well as Justice John Paul Stevens’ dissent, suggest that numerous other tribes that can demonstrate that they were “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934, even if “the Department did not know it at the time,” in Breyer’s words. The concurring and dissenting justices named several tribes that fit into this category, including the Stillaguamish Tribe, the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, and the Mole Lake Tribe. In short, according to Justice Breyer, a tribe that could show it was party to a treaty with the United States, the beneficiary of a pre-1934 congressional appropriation, or enrollment with the Indian Office as of 1934. The Narragansett Tribe, according to the court, was under the jurisdiction of Rhode Island in 1934, not the Department of the Interior, and so they are not eligible.

These exceptions to the general Carcieri rule mean that Indian tribes in the twilight of the concurring opinions may be engaged in expensive litigation to prove that they were “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934. Such litigation may require the heavy expenditure of funds for expert witnesses, forcing some tribes to undergo the strange and humiliating process of earning a kind of federal recognition all over again. In the coming weeks, the Obama administration should take the lead in defining what “under federal jurisdiction” means to blunt the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Obama administration should take the lead in defining what “under federal jurisdiction” means to blunt the effect of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Regardless, now is the time for Indian country to test the waters in Washington D.C., to see if the Obama administration is serious about change and to press the Democratic-controlled Congress for a Carcieri “fix.” It might not take much legislation, just a quick rewording of the definition of Indian tribe in the IRA to remove the word “now.” The administration and Congress may be sympathetic, given that the Roberts Court seems to go out of its way to punish Indian tribes. A Carcieri “fix” pitched as merely reversing a bad Supreme Court decision would not work a major change on the federal-tribal-state relationship because it would merely be restoring the pre-Carcieri state of affairs that had existed for over seven decades.

For the Narragansett Tribe, this decision is yet another slap in the face to a tribe that has done nothing wrong but what it can to survive. For six justices, the Narragansetts did not pass the test of “federal jurisdiction,” a test that no one could have known in 1934 they would have been required to pass. Nothing could be more arbitrary and capricious.

Matthew L.M. Fletcher is associate professor at the Michigan State University College of Law and director of the Northern Plains Indian Law Center. He is an enrolled citizen of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

Initial Reaction to Carcieri Opinion

I took a deep breath and drafted this initial review of the opinion. The deep breath was to avoid a knee-jerk response here like the one I had after the Plains Commerce Bank decision last year.

The Supreme Court handed down its opinion in the case of Carcieri v. Kempthorne (Salazar), which involed the Narragansett Indian Tribe’s petition to have land placed into trust by the Secretary of Interior. The Court ruled that the Secretary of Interior could not place land into trust for the Tribe under the Indian Reorganization Act, because the Tribe was not recognized at the time the IRA was passed in 1934 (the Narragansett Tribe was finally acknowledged in 1983, after a century-long effort).

The decision was 6-3 in favor of the Governor of Rhode Island, although Justice Stevens was the only justice to fully dissent from the opinion, and drafted an opinion in support of the Tribe.

The IRA states that the Secretary of Interior may place land into trust for tribes “now under Federal jurisdiction.” According to the Court, use of the word “now” means that this provision only applies to tribes under federal jurisdiction at the time the IRA was passed.

You can find the opinion and background materials here.

A couple of quick thoughts on this case:

Continue reading

MichGO Decision — Implications for Carcieri v. Kempthorne?

Who knows, except the people at the Supreme Court?

One possibility is that the Supreme Court denied cert in MichGO because the Court is going to uphold the Secretary of Interior’s authority to take land into trust for tribes not federally recognized in 1934 (tribes like the Gun Lake Band and the Narragansett Tribe), the key issue in Carcieri. If the Court was to reject the Secretary’s authority in Carcieri, then there would be reason to grant cert in MichGO to correct the lower court’s holding. They might choose to do this through a tool called GVR — Grant, Vacate, and Remand. But if the Court was to affirm the Secretary’s holding, then the lower court decision in MichGO is correct even after Carcieri, and so there’s no reason to review the decision.

However, there might be a problem with this theory; namely (if I am correct), MichGO never once argued that Gun Lake Band is ineligible under Section 5 because it wasn’t recognized in 1934. They did raise it in the cert petition, but one suspects that it’s too late then. MichGO could have raised the question from the outset, because the Narragansett litigation had been ongoing for some time. So maybe that’s why the Court denied cert in MichGO. And, if so, the cert denial offers no clues as to the possible outcome in Carcieri.

Finally, one great bit of news — since the Court denied cert in MichGO, the nondelegation doctrine claim that MichGO brought to the Court once again goes by the wayside (the Court had previously refused to accept this question in Carcieri as well, and in several other cases before that).

Carcieri Oral Argument Fight Not Over Yet

From Indianz:

Officials in Rhode Island are still fighting over who will argue Carcieri v. Kempthorne on November 3.

Laurence Tribe a leading U.S. Supreme Court practitioner, said Theodore B. Olson, a former Bush administration attorney, should represent the state. He said only “childish and selfish” reasons would prevent Olson from arguing the case. “The obvious solution is for Ted Olson to argue the case. He’s much more experienced … But if they find that unpalatable, they should flip a coin and grow up,” Tribe told The Providence Journal.

Joseph Larisa Jr., the assistant solicitor for Indian Affairs for the town of Charlestown, still believes he should present the case but he is willing to do a coin toss. Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) Attorney General Patrick Lynch only want Olson to argue. At issue is whether the Narragansett Tribe can acquire land under the Indian Reorganization Act even though the tribe wasn’t recognized at the time of the act’s passage in 1934. If the tribe can acquire new lands, the state claims jurisdiction over them.

Continue reading

First Circuit Affirms Jury Verdict Against Narragansett Members over Smokeshop Injuries

The First Circuit affirmed the jury verdict, and the trial judge’s instructions to it, against the seven members of the Narragansett who were injured by Rhode Island police officers during the notorious smokeshop raid several years ago.


Narragansett Smokeshop Case — Jones v. Jennings — Cert Petition

A case that I suspect has a pretty good shot at being heard by the Supreme Court, Jones v. Jennings, will be on the Court’s conference agenda for January 18, 2008. The case involves the smashing of the Narragansett Tribe’s fledgling smokeshop by state officers. Jones, the police officer, broke the ankle of Jennings, a tribal member, during the conflagration (which was caught on tape and played all over Indian Country for months).

In particular, the questions presented are:

Continue reading

Chief Justice Roberts & Federal Indian Law

Long before John G. Roberts, C.J. became life-tenured, he practiced. And he worked on at least three Indian law-related cases: Alaska v. Native Village of Venetie, Rice v. Cayetano, and (briefly) Roberts v. United States. Also, as part of President Reagan’s Office of Legal Counsel, he vetted several Acts of Congress related to Indian tribes.

Roberts won Venetie, representing the State of Alaska. He lost Rice, representing the State of Hawaii. And the Court denied his petition for cert on behalf of Hollis Roberts (no relation, one presumes) in Roberts v. U.S.

The now semi-notorious brief Roberts filed in Alaska v. Venetie is here: Venetie Petr Brief. It is notorious for the reversal of the “deadliest enemies” language in United States v. Kagama. The Kagama Court wrote that states and state citizens were the deadliest enemies of Indians and Indian tribes, but the Venetie brief (for no real good reason) altered the quote to mean that Indians and Indian tribes were the deadliest enemies of states and state citizens. Here’s my own paper on the archaic notion that states and tribes are “deadliest enemies.”

Hawaii’s brief in Rice v. Cayetano is here: Rice Resp Brief

Roberts’ cert petition in Roberts v. US is here: Roberts v. United States Cert Petn. This one is especially important since Roberts (and Roberts) brought a challenge to Section 465, the fee to trust statute. There is ongoing litigation involving Section 465 that may soon be appealed to the Supreme Court. To some extent, the legal challenge to Section 465 has morphed since the 1999 cert petition, but it is significant that Roberts, C.J. is aware of this kind of case.

Finally, we include the documents Roberts wrote as a member of the OLC. These came out during his Senate confirmation process.

Kickapoo OLC Memo

Reagan Indian Policy OLC Memo

Tribal Tax Status Act OLC Memo

Utah Paiute Act OLC Memo

Zuni OLC Memo

Shoalwater Bay OLC Memo

Las Vegas Paiute OLC Memo

I guess what these memos demonstrate is that young Roberts was a serious conservative and a funny guy (unless you were the subject of the humor).