Another week goes by without decision in tribal jurisdiction case

Native women rallied at the U.S. Supreme Court on December 7, 2015, as the justices heard arguments in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. Photo by Indianz.Com

The U.S. Supreme Court continues to make Indian Country wait for a decision in a closely-watched tribal jurisdiction case.

The court heard arguments in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians 176 days ago. It remains the oldest case on the docket without a decision.

"This means our vigil for Dollar General, Fisher, and Sanchez Valle continues," attorney Amy Howe wrote on SCOTUSBlog on Monday morning, referring to Dollar General and two other cases that have yet to be adjudicated.

At issue is whether Dollar General, a publicly-traded company that reported $18.9 billion in net sales in 2014, must answer to a lawsuit filed in the courts of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. A federal judge and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the tribe in prior stages of the dispute.

But the Supreme Court historically has been hostile when it comes to tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian entities like Dollar General. So tribal advocates were fearing for the worst after the oral argument on December 7, 2015.

John Dossett, the general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, said "it wasn't looking good" after the hearing.

The landscape, however, seems to have shifted following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February. Without his vote, the court appears deadlocked because the conservative-leaning members who ruled against tribal jurisdiction by a 5-4 vote in Plains Commerce Bank v. Long do not appear to have a clear majority this time around.

But Indian Country won't know the result until the court resolves the case. It's possible a decision could come next Monday.

Prior to Dollar General, Plains Commerce was the last tribal jurisdiction case heard by the Supreme Court. That decision came just 72 days after the oral argument.

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