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).