An injunction that prevented the Shinnecock Nation of New York from building a casino on ancestral land was lifted by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals today.
Prior to gaining federal recognition, the tribe started building a casino on a parcel of land owned in fee status. The tribe claimed aboriginal title to the 80-acre site known as the Westwoods.
State and local authorities sued in state court but the tribe had the case removed to federal court. A judge eventually barred construction of the casino, ruling that the tribe can't assert sovereignty on its ancestral land.
By a 2-1 vote, the 2nd Circuit reversed. The majority lifted the injunction and
ruled that the dispute could have been resolved in state court without addressing any federal Indian law issues.
The decision is a partial victory for the tribe. Although the Shinnecocks argued for federal court jurisdiction, the tribe wanted the injunction lifted.
The tribe also avoided a potentially disastrous ruling on its claims of aboriginal title. By addressing the federal court jurisdiction issue first, the 2nd Circuit didn't need to go into tribal sovereignty issues.
"We conclude that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over this action, and thus do not reach the merits of this appeal,' Judge John M. Walker wrote in the 18-page majority opinion.
The potentially negative outcomes were in fact highlighted in the 24-page dissent from Judge Peter W. Hall. He argued that federal court jurisdiction existed and that the tribe lost its aboriginal title to the land.
The 2nd Circuit remanded the case to state court but the dispute appears moot. Having won federal recognition in October 2010, the tribe is pursuing gaming at up to three sites in New York and has indicated its intent to go through the land-into-trust process for economic development and other projects.
2nd Circuit Decision:
New York v. Shinnecock Nation
(June 25, 2012)
New York governor urged to discuss
Shinnecock Nation gaming (6/11)