Supreme Court Hears Indian Land-Into-Trust Case
Tribal Supreme Court Project Update
WASHINGTON D.C. – On Monday, November 3, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in Carcieri v. Kempthorne, an extremely important Indian law case involving a challenge by the State of Rhode Island to the authority of the Secretary of Interior to take land into trust for the Narragansett Tribe under Section 5 of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The State of Rhode Island was represented by Ted Olson, a very experienced Supreme Court practitioner who has argued over 50 cases before the Court, was the attorney who argued Bush v. Gore on behalf of George W. Bush, and served as U.S. Solicitor General (2001-2004). Although the Court granted review on two questions raised by the State in its petition for writ of certiorari, the Court was clearly interested in hearing argument only on the broader question of whether Congress intended the benefits of the IRA to apply only to “recognized Indian tribes now under Federal jurisdiction” as of June 18, 1934, the date the IRA was enacted into law. The justices demonstrated no interest in hearing arguments on the narrow question of whether the 1978 Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act created any limitation on the Secretary’s land to trust authority in relation to the Narragansett Tribe.
Although it is very difficult, and oftentimes risky to predict an outcome based on oral argument, a number of the justices, including Chief Justice Roberts, appeared supportive of Rhode Island’s position that the Secretary’s authority to take land in trust for the benefit of “Indians” was limited by Congress to recognized Indian tribes now under federal jurisdiction in 1934 who were adversely impacted by the 1887 Allotment Act. (Read more)
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