Supreme Court still holding onto ruling in tribal jurisdiction case


Native women send a message to the U.S. Supreme Court as the justices heard arguments in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a tribal jurisdiction case, on December 7, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com

The U.S. Supreme Court met again on Thursday but did not issue a decision in a closely watched tribal jurisdiction case.

The outcome in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will determine whether the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians can exercise authority over Dollar General, a publicly-traded company that reported $18.9 billion in net sales in 2014. Historically, the Supreme Court has not been receptive to tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian entities.

But with the court down to just eight members following the death of Antonin Scalia, the remaining justices appear to be unable to come to a clear consensus. The impasse could result in a 4-4 tie, a move that would affirm the Mississippi Band's authority but which would not otherwise benefit Indian Country as a whole.

The court's last tribal jurisdiction case was Plains Commerce Bank v. Long. By a 5-4 vote, the justices held that the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe lacked jurisdiction over a non-Indian bank.

Observers felt the court was leaning in the same direction for Dollar General. "It wasn't looking good," John Dossett, the general counsel for the National Congress of American Indians, told tribal leaders in February.


Indianz.Com SoundCloud: U.S. Supreme Court Oral Argument in Dollar General Corp. v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians December 7, 2015

Apart from Scalia, the majority in Plains Commerce included four members who are still on the court. It would be highly unlikely that Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, Justice Clarence Thomas or Justice Samuel Alito have changed their minds about tribal jurisdiction since that 2008 decision.

Of the minority in Plains Commerce, only Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Stephen G. Breyer remain on the court. They have been joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who has emerged as Indian Country's most visible ally and Justice Elena Kagan, who is the most junior member but also has become a reliable voice for tribal interests.

If the views in Dollar General fall along those lines and no one is willing to switch votes, the tie could end up affirming the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that the Mississippi Band could hear a lawsuit that accuses Dollar General of negligence, among other claims. The dispute arose after a minor, a 13-year-old tribal member, alleged sexual abuse by a non-Indian employee of the company's store on the reservation.

That outcome would not set not set a national precedent but it could benefit tribes in 5th Circuit, a judicial district that includes Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

It's been 192 days since oral arguments on December 7, 2015, and the case is the oldest on the docket without a decision. The justices still have two more weeks in their current term so a decision will come before June 30.

Supreme Court Documents:
Docket Sheet No. 13-1496 | Questions Presented | Oral Argument Transcript: Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (March 14, 2014)
Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians (March 14, 2014)

Join the Conversation

Related Stories
Long wait continues for decision in tribal court jurisdiction dispute (6/13)
Supreme Court debates 'inherent' tribal sovereignty in new ruling (6/9)
Clock keeps ticking on closely-watched tribal jurisdiction dispute (06/06)
Opinion: Eight justices isn't enough for functioning Supreme Court (6/6)
Another week goes by without decision in tribal jurisdiction case (5/31)
Long wait hints at Supreme Court tie in closely-watched tribal jurisdiction case (05/23)
Supreme Court still holding onto decision in tribal jurisdiction case (5/19)
Still no decision from Supreme Court in tribal jurisdiction dispute (5/16)
Supreme Court pick puts some Indian law cases on questionnaire (05/11)
Still no decision from Supreme Court in tribal jurisdiction case (04/26)
Supreme Court still hasn't issued decision in tribal jurisdiction case (4/21)
Supreme Court case prompts defense of tribal judiciary systems (4/19)
Supreme Court ready to hear fourth Indian law case on the docket (4/18)
Bill in Senate expands tribal jurisdiction over non-Indian offenders (04/14)
Vacancy on Supreme Court already impacts high-profile cases (03/30)
Leader of Navajo Nation pushes for action on Supreme Court pick (03/22)
Chair of Sault Ste. Marie Tribe calls for action on court nominee (03/17)
Supreme Court nominee comes with some Indian law experience (03/16)
Dollar General defends plan to open in majority Native community (03/08)
Klamath Tribes oppose Dollar General store due to court challenge (03/01)
Aaron Payment: Tribal sovereignty hangs in the balance at Supreme Court (02/29)
Updates from Day 2 of National Congress of American Indians winter session in D.C. (02/24)
No Supreme Court opinions this week following Scalia's death (02/22)
Mississippi Choctaw family seeks $2.5M in Dollar General case (12/11)
Matthew Fletcher: Supreme Court takes up tribal jurisdiction case (12/8)
Native women rally at Supreme Court for tribal jurisdiction case (12/7)
Steven Newcomb: Supreme Court ready to cut sovereignty again (12/7)
Peter d'Errico: Anti-Indian forces play hardball in Supreme Court (12/7)
Mike Myers: Tribal jurisdiction opponents flock to Supreme Court (12/04)
Ned Blackhawk: Supreme Court case jeopardizes tribal rights (11/25)
Peter d'Errico: Anti-Indian wars continue in our Supreme Court (11/24)
Native women schedule Quilt Walk for Justice at Supreme Court (12/01)
Native women to rally at Supreme Court for upcoming case (11/11)
DOJ to help with arguments in Supreme Court jurisdiction case (11/09)
Vice President Joe Biden reflects on triumphs of Obama's Indian policies (10/28)
Native women defend tribal jurisdiction in Supreme Court case (10/26)
Tribes urged to bring states on board for Supreme Court case (10/20)
Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribal Tribune: Supreme Court case tests tribal jurisdiction (10/14)
Supreme Court schedules oral arguments in two Indian law cases (10/12)
States oppose tribal jurisdiction in upcoming Supreme Court case (10/07)
Bryan Newland: The racist foundation of Supreme Court rulings (09/08)
Supreme Court agrees to hear first tribal jurisdiction case in years (06/15)
Supreme Court needs more time to review tribal jurisdiction case (06/08)
SCOTUSBlog: DOJ urges denial of petition in tribal court dispute (05/20)
DOJ files brief in tribal jurisdiction case before Supreme Court (05/14)
Supreme Court asks DOJ for views in Mississippi Choctaw case (10/06)