Patrick Sullivan: New Carcieri bill invites even more litigation


Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, presides over a business meeting and hearing on July 22, 2015. Photo from SCIA / Flickr

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyoming), the chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, introduced S.1879, the Interior Improvement Act in July. The bill includes a fix to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar but it injects more uncertainty into the land-into-trust process, attorney Patrick Sullivan argues:
After the Carcieri decision, tribes immediately pushed for a “clean” legislative fix from Congress – a bare amendment clarifying Interior’s authority to place in trust for all recognized tribes without limitation and retroactively affirming previous trust decisions. Opponents of off-reservation gaming, however, saw an opportunity to increase the input of local governments in trust acquisitions and even to seek a veto over federal trust acquisitions. Opposition from Indian tribes to a local veto has precluded a legislative fix repairing the damage done by the decision.

Barrasso’s bill affirms the Department’s past and present ability to accept land in trust for all federally recognized Indian tribes but, if passed, would not give local governments the veto power they sought. Instead, it would impose a new process on the Secretary in considering trust applications that increases the input sought from, and consideration given to, local governments affected by trust acquisitions.

First, the bill would require the Secretary to notify contiguous jurisdictions within 30 days of receiving an application to place land in trust and to make the tribal application publicly available on the Department of the Interior website. Those jurisdictions would have 30 days to provide comments. The Department’s current regulations already require notice and comment from the governments exercising jurisdiction over the trust acquisition, so this is a minor change.

Of much greater impact is the bill’s requirement that the Secretary give preferential treatment to those trust applications in which the tribe has entered into a “cooperative agreement” with local governments, defined in the bill as “contiguous jurisdictions.” Those applications would be expedited with a 30-day timeline for a decision approving or denying the application, or 60 days after the completion of NEPA review. This would be a drastic improvement over the current wait time, which can extend to months or even years. Relieving the Department of the requirement to conduct a Carcieri review would save considerable manpower. Those applications without cooperative agreements would still be eligible for approval but would not be expedited.

Get the Story:
Patrick Sullivan: Wyoming Senator Barrasso Introduces Carcieri Compromise Bill (National Law Review 11/17)

DOI Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014

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