Law | Trust

Turtle Talk: Fixing the land-into-trust decision for Michigan tribes





"Congressional action to correct the Supreme Court’s decision in Carcieri v. Salazar would cost American taxpayers nothing and would be an enormous win for Michigan tribes and the Michigan economy. Carcieri, a decision that undermines the certainty of the Department of Interior’s authority to acquire land in trust for some Indian tribes, makes borrowing money for several Michigan tribes more difficult and more expensive – for some Michigan tribes, the price to borrow money for capital growth increases by millions in increased interest or even the inability to borrow. In short, Carcieri costs the Michigan economy jobs and economic growth.

The Carcieri decision held that the Department of Interior could not take land into trust for the benefit of the Narragansett Indian Tribe in Rhode Island under Section 5 of the Indian Reorganization Act (“IRA”), a statute that authorizes the Secretary of Interior to do so for any Indian tribe. The IRA’s definition of “Indian tribe” includes any tribe “now under federal jurisdiction.” The Interior Department had interpreted the IRA to authorize trust land acquisitions for tribes under federal jurisdiction at the time of the application, using federal recognition as a proxy for federal jurisdiction. But the Supreme Court held that the Narragansetts were under state jurisdiction at the time of the enactment of the IRA in 1934, and so Interior could not take land into trust for them.

The Department of Interior had “administratively terminated” several Michigan Indian tribes – all of the six Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes now federally recognized – in the late 19th century. These tribes are “treaty tribes,” meaning that they have an ongoing treaty relationship with the federal government that has never been extinguished by Congress. The Sixth Circuit has recognized that “administrative termination” was an illegal administrative act, and the concurrences and dissent in Carcieri also recognized that the Michigan tribes probably were “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934. Still, those tribes, and two other tribes in the Upper Peninsula that became federally recognized in the 1970s and 1980s may be affected by Carcieri."

Get the Story:
Matthew Fletcher: Fixing Carcieri for Michigan (Turtle Talk 6/15)

Supreme Court Decision:
Syllabus | Opinion [Thomas] | Concurrence [Breyer] | Dissent [Stevens] | Concurrence/Dissent [Souter]

Related Stories:
Senate Indian Affairs Committee approves report on Carcieri bill (05/25)
Richard Pombo sees 'no chance' to pass land-into-trust fix (03/15)
Bill Lomax: Supreme Court decision hurts tribal economies (12/15)
Sen. Akaka and Rep. Cole: Action needed on land-into-trust fix (11/16)
DOI official reaffirms support for fix to land-into-trust ruling (11/02)