your internet resource on facebook on twitter on Google+ on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Native American Bank - Native people investing in Native communities
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines
Print   Subscribe
California tribe loses major sovereignty court case
Monday, February 12, 2007
Filed Under: Law

In a major blow to tribal sovereignty, an appeals court overturned 30 years of precedent on Friday and subjected tribes to federal labor law.

Tribes aren't mentioned anywhere in the National Labor Relations Act. But a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said the law can be imposed on tribes and their commercial enterprises, such as casinos, without infringing on their sovereignty.

"The total impact on tribal sovereignty at issue here amounts to some unpredictable, but probably modest, effect on tribal revenue and the displacement of [tribal] legislative and executive authority that is secondary to a commercial undertaking," Judge Janice Brown, an appointee of President Bush, wrote for the majority.

In the 23-page decision, the court made two broad and potentially negative statements. The first involved the Indian canons of construction, which have been used to favor tribes in cases where laws are ambiguous or fail to speak on a particular matter.

The San Manuel Band of Mission Indian of California, the tribe at issue in the case, the National Indian Gaming Association and the National Congress of American Indians had argued that the ambiguity in federal labor law should favor tribes. But the D.C. Circuit said the canon only applies to laws "enacted specifically for the benefit of Indians or for the regulation of Indian affairs" and not for laws of "general applicability" such as the NLRA.

"We have found no case in which the Supreme Court applied this principle of pro-Indian construction when resolving an ambiguity in a statute of general application," Brown wrote. This could affect tribal disputes under other general laws, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The second statement appears far more damaging. The judges characterized tribal sovereignty not as an inherent power to act as a government but merely as a means to preserve Indian culture.

"The principle of tribal sovereignty in American law exists as a matter of respect for Indian communities," Brown wrote. "It recognizes the independence of these communities as regards internal affairs, thereby giving them latitude to maintain traditional customs and practices."

"But tribal sovereignty is not absolute autonomy, permitting a tribe to operate in a commercial capacity without legal constraint," the court said.

The court acknowledged that the operation of a casino is a tribal government undertaking. The tribes cited language in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that Congress intended casinos to fund government services and make tribes more self-sufficient.

But the judges drew a distinction between acts of governance that only affect tribal members or internal matters and acts that affect non-members. By opening casinos, marketing them to non-Indians and employing non-Indians, tribes are stepping beyond "traditional" notions of self-governance," the court said.

"First, operation of a casino is not a traditional attribute of self-government," Brown wrote. "Rather, the casino at issue here is virtually identical to scores of purely commercial casinos across the country. Second, the vast majority of the casino's employees and customers are not members of the tribe, and they live off the reservation."

Henry Duro, the chairman of the San Manuel Band, said the ruling will indeed impact internal tribal affairs. Revenues from the tribe's gaming enterprise fund government services and are distributed to tribal members on a per capita basis.

"We believe that these gaming projects help tribes to fulfill essential governmental functions by providing education, health care, housing, senior care and other key programs," Duro said. "Those are basic governmental obligations that could be impacted by this decision."

At a minimum, the tribe will have to rewrite its labor ordinances to comply with the National Labor Relations Act. More significantly, the decision puts the tribe's new gaming compact and casino expansion plans in doubt.

Labor unions and their Democratic allies in the state Legislature blocked the compact last years because they said it didn't provide enough protections for employees. The decision gives them more grounds to insist on pro-labor provisions in the deal, which allows the tribe to add more slot machines.

On a national basis, the D.C. Circuit noted that other circuits have made somewhat conflicting rulings on tribes and federal labor law. But by upholding the National Labor Relation Board's view of tribal sovereignty, the court left the agency in charge to apply the law to tribes everywhere and to Alaska Natives and Alaska Native corporations.

With Democrats in charge of Congress, efforts to place a tribal exemption in the National Labor Relations Act are also doomed. A bill has already been introduced to expand the law by legalizing "card checks," which allow unions to organize at a business if a majority of employees agree.

The San Manuel Band could ask for a rehearing by the three-judge panel or ask a full panel of the D.C. Circuit to hear the case. The tribe could also petition the Supreme Court for review.

D.C. Circuit Decision:
San Manuel Band v. National Labor Relations Board (February 9, 2007)

San Manuel Band v NLRB:
Briefs, Decisions and Documents (Native American Rights Fund)

National Labor Relations Board Decisions:
San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino | Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation

Relevant Links:
San Manuel Band of Mission Indians -
San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino -
National Labor Relations Board -

Related Stories:
Tulalip Tribes creating new employment laws (12/08)
Labor union goes after Saginaw Chippewa Tribe (12/7)
Federal appeals court hears labor law dispute (11/07)
Arizona tribes join battle over federal labor law (08/07)
House panel debates controversial tribal labor measure (07/21)
Tribes take labor law battle to federal court (04/25)
NLRB reaffirms tribal sovereignty ruling (10/06)
Tribal labor law rider killed by wide margin in House (06/27)
Fight looms on tribal labor amendment in House (6/27
Republicans sign onto tribal labor law exemption bill (06/13)
California tribe's workers to negotiate union contract (05/05)
Unions turn on each other in tribal sovereignty clash (05/04)
Labor union challenges tribe's Indian preference (12/07)
Federal labor board to hold hearing involving tribe (12/6)
NCAI between 'rock and a hard place' on labor rider (09/13)
Tribal labor amendment fails in House vote (9/13)
Rep. J.D. Hayworth: I told you so! On tribal labor (06/25)
California tribe ponders next move in labor case (6/23)
Court ruling adds to debate over tribal-labor relations (06/14)
Editorial: Unions should be allowed at casinos (6/10)
Labor board ruling draws sharp barbs from tribes (6/9)
Labor board's tribal ruling a surprise to many (6/8)
Board rules tribes subject to labor law (6/4)
Arbiter allows pro-union flyers by tribal employees (03/26)
Pro-union hearing blasts Calif. tribe for sovereignty (03/17)
N.M. tribe seals winning case on labor laws (12/09)
Settlement pending in tribal labor dispute (08/07)
Court denies tribal exemption from labor laws (01/17)
Tribal labor bill draws complaints (04/18)
Pueblo wins sovereignty case (1/14)

Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:
On Facebook

On Twitter

On Google+

On SoundCloud
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Authorities crack down on #NoDAPL treaty camp in North Dakota (10/28)
Democracy Now: Clinton camp won't talk to Standing Rock youth (10/28)
Mark Trahant: More injustice as police move in at Standing Rock (10/28)
Lakota Country Times: Tribes oppose transfer of treaty territory (10/28)
Native Sun News Today: Oglala leader alleges more corruption (10/28)
Editorial: The rich get richer and the poor get poorer on the rez (10/28)
CAIRNS Column: Examining Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe's flag (10/28)
Jyl Wheaton-Abraham: Water protector efforts are not in vain (10/28)
Anne Keala Kelly: Disney marginalizes indigenous people again (10/28)
Jury acquits defendants over armed standoff on tribal territory (10/28)
Chickasaw Nation announces casino at popular Oklahoma lake (10/28)
Federal authorities concerned about tribal casino bus incidents (10/28)
Native Sun News Today: Sheriff makes biggest #NoDAPL roundup (10/27)
Democracy Now: Dakota Access security guards weren't licensed (10/27)
Lakota Country Times: Pine Ridge youth center stresses safety (10/27)
James Giago Davies: Corruption keeps the privileged in power (10/27)
Dana Lone Hill: Indian people won't stop fighting for our rights (10/27)
Dave Archambault Sr.: Dehumanizing the #NoDAPL movement (10/27)
Steven Newcomb: Reconciliation means covering up the truth (10/27)
Standing Rock Sioux Tribe sees decline in business at casino (10/27)
Republican Donald Trump invested in Dakota Access Pipeline (10/27)
The Sioux Chef on track to open indigenous restaurant in 2017 (10/27)
Yakama Nation secures $30M loan to expand utility company (10/27)
Jury restarts deliberations in armed standoff on tribal territory (10/27)
Scotts Valley Band envisions casino as part of new homeland (10/27)
Seneca Nation on track to complete $40M expansion at casino (10/27)
Cowlitz Tribe spends $32M for highway project at new casino (10/27)
Native youth pressure Hillary Clinton to take a #NoDAPL stand (10/26)
Native candidate in South Dakota gets a big boost from Obama (10/26)
Landowners from Bad River Band see $6.6M in buy-back offers (10/26)
Navajo Nation lawmaker warns further action needed on hemp (10/26)
Former Obama administration official joins Native owned firm (10/26)
Justice Department opens criminal databases to more tribes (10/26)
Mark Trahant: Native candidates for Congress in final stretch (10/26)
Lakota Country Times: Oglala Sioux Tribe reacts to shootings (10/26)
Native Sun News Today: Pine Ridge football team impresses (10/26)
Brandon Ecoffey: Strong fixes needed for reservation crime (10/26)
Raúl Grijalva: Republicans still won't listen to Indian Country (10/26)
more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.