indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+ indianz.com on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
Supreme Court affirms tribal powers over all Indians
Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Reversing a decision widely seen as an erosion of tribal sovereignty, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that tribes have criminal jurisdiction over all American Indians and Alaska Natives.

In a closely watched case with significant implications, the justices overturned a 14-year-old decision in which tribes lost the power to prosecute members of other tribes. A majority of the court held that a subsequent change in federal law rendered the Duro v. Reina precedent of 1990 moot.

Congress, Justice Steven G. Breyer wrote, can refine the "metes and bounds of tribal sovereignty" even if they come in conflict with the court's decisions. In this case, he wrote, lawmakers passed a statute "specifically authorizing a tribe to prosecute Indian members of a different tribe."

The decision was hailed as a victory by tribal leaders and Indian legal experts who said it restored an inherent power tribes always possessed. Tex Hall, president of the National Congress of American Indians, called it an "overwhelming" win for tribal rights after years of negative rulings from the high court.

"I really think that tribes took a turn for the good here with the court," Hall said yesterday in an interview. "I think it had to come in bits and pieces. Of course, this bit was a big piece."

John Echohawk, the executive director of the Native American Rights Fund, also characterized the decision as a victory. He said the majority recognized that Congress has the final say in the federal-tribal relationship.

"That's the way Indian policy gets made," he said. "If Congress wants to adjust that, they can do that and that's all this was. It was an adjustment of the status of tribal sovereign authority." NCAI and NARF, through their joint tribal Supreme Court project, submitted an amicus brief in the case.

But the attorney for a North Dakota man who challenged the legality of the Congressional fix said the decision subjects individual Indians to a tribal government in which they have limited rights. "I would imagine that the tribes are fairly excited about this ruling and believe that their sovereignty has been maintained," Alexander Reichert of Grand Forks said yesterday. "But it's at the cost of individual rights."

As a result, Billy Jo Lara faces a second prosecution over an incident for which he was already tried and sentenced by the Spirit Lake Nation of North Dakota. He served 90 days in jail for hitting a Bureau of Indian Affairs police officer who was trying to enforce an exclusion order previously issued by the tribe's court.

Federal prosecutors then moved to try Lara, a member of the Turtle Mountain Ojibwe Tribe of North Dakota, in federal court for assaulting a federal officer. Normally, the second prosecution would be barred by the U.S. Constitution's ban on double jeopardy.

But by a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court held that the Spirit Lake Nation was acting as a "separate sovereign" when it prosecuted Lara. "Consequently, the Double Jeopardy Clause does not prohibit the federal government from proceeding with the present prosecution for a discrete federal offense," Breyer wrote for the majority.

Breyer's decision was joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and Justices John Paul Stevens, Sandra Day O'Connor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In passing the Duro fix, they held that Congress exercised its board "plenary power to legislate in the field of Indian affairs."

But even though Justices Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas agreed with the legality of the fix, they questioned the majority's reasoning. "The court's holding is on a point of major significance to our understanding and interpretation of the Constitution; and, in my respectful view, it is most doubtful," Kennedy wrote.

Thomas wrote that he was forced to "accept" the basic assumption that "Congress (rather than some other part of the federal government) can regulate virtually every aspect of the tribes without rendering tribal sovereignty a nullity" and that "tribes retain inherent sovereignty to enforce their criminal laws against their own members."

"As this case should make clear, the time has come to reexamine the premises and logic of our tribal sovereignty cases," he said.

Justice David H. Souter surprised tribal leaders, and even Reichert, by authoring the dissent, which was joined by Justice Antonin Scalia. Souter, who normally sides with tribes in Indian law cases, said he would have upheld the Duro decision and an earlier one that divested tribes of criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians.

"It is not that I fail to appreciate Congress's express wish that the jurisdiction conveyed by statute be treated as inherent, but Congress cannot control the interpretation of the statute in a way that is at odds with the constitutional consequences of the tribes' continuing dependent status," he wrote.

Lara faces a minimal sentence if convicted in federal court, according to Reichert. "As I recall, he's not looking at much, if any, time," he said.

Get the Decision:
Syllabus | Opinion [Breyer] | Concurrence [Stevens] | Concurrence [Kennedy | Concurrence [Thomas] | Dissent [Souter]

Relevant Documents:
Docket Sheet: No. 03-107 (Supreme Court) | Briefs: U.S. v. Lara (NCAI/NARF Supreme Court Project)

Lower Court Decision:
8th Circuit: U.S. v. Lara (en banc) (March 24, 2003) | U.S. v. Lara (panel) (June 20, 2002)

Related Decisions:
9th Circuit: U.S. v. Enas (June 29, 2001) | 7th Circuit: U.S. v. Long (March 20, 2003)

Related Stories:
Supreme Court hears tribal powers case (01/22)
Supreme Court case on jurisdiction attracts attention (01/08)
Bill's tribal jurisdiction provisions contested (07/31)
Tribes air homeland security concerns (7/30)
DOJ's Supreme Court brief backs sovereignty (7/30)
Tribal jurisdiction faces test before Supreme Court (07/03)
Homeland security push leaves tribes behind (05/12)
Inouye ties sovereignty to homeland security (02/25)
Native youth victimization outpaces nation (07/17)
Natives top violent crime list again (4/8)
One in 10 hate crimes target American Indians (10/1)
DOJ: American Indians highest injured (6/25)
DOJ: Violent crime plagues Indian Country (3/19)
Violence in Indian Country (6/15)

Copyright 2000-2004 Indianz.Com
More headlines...

Latest Headlines:

'Ominous shadow' of President Trump looms over annual meeting of tribal leaders
Senate narrowly approves budget resolution without taking up pro-tribal provisions
Native Sun News Today: Tribes decry court ruling favoring Dakota Access Pipeline
Ivan Star Comes Out: Only dictators demand for their citizens to 'respect the flag'
Decision day for National Congress of American Indians with leadership changes
House subcommittee takes up controversial American Indian Empowerment Act
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs schedules hearing on public safety measures
Arne Vainio: I wanted you to know you are loved and that I am bringing you home
Albert Bender: Native community celebrates Indigenous Peoples' Day in Nashville
Native Sun News Today: Student speaks out about racism in South Dakota school
James Giago Davies: School fumbles historic opportunity after incident of racism
Tribes open their doors in response to devastating wildfires in northern California
National Congress of American Indians looks ahead to Tara Sweeney confirmation
Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs sign agreement for Cobell buy-back program
Alaska Native executive Tara Sweeney named to top Bureau of Indian Affairs job
Tribes slam Trump administration for adding hurdles to land-into-trust process
Native Sun News Today: Native Americans are over-represented in county's jail
Tim Giago: Clones in Congress won't stand up to the Clown in the White House
Mark Trahant: Exploring the 'business' of news in Indian Country these days
Native Sun News Today: Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate debuts new grocery store
Bears Ears remains in limbo as Republicans leave tribes out of monument bill
Mark Trahant: Trump brings more chaos to health coverage for tribal citizens
YES! Magazine: Tribal hospital in Alaska brings traditional foods to patients
Native Sun News Today: Tribal leaders absent at border town liquor summit
Native Sun News Today Editorial: Teams continue to denigrate Indian people
Secretary Zinke requires special flag to be flown when he's in Interior building
Lawsuit seeks damages for death of girl at Bureau of Indian Education school
President of Northern Cheyenne Tribe remains in office after disputed removal
Republican candidate questions mural for depicting Indian people as too 'dark'
Bureau of Indian Affairs supports name change for 'Negro Bill Canyon' in Utah
Aroostook Band of Micmacs backs ballot referendum for new casino in Maine
Gun Lake Tribe secures strong local support in casino case except for one town
Second federal appeals court chimes in with decision favoring tribal homelands
Harold Frazier: Another incident of racism targets Native youth in South Dakota
Native American Voting Rights Coalition convenes second hearing in Wisconsin
Yurok Tribe welcomes introduction of bill to add important lands to reservation
YES! Magazine: Native family uses energy proceeds to benefit Indian Country
Native Sun News Today: Oglala Sioux Tribe refutes rumors of Black Hills 'sale'
James Giago Davies: A best friend sticks with us even at the very end of life
Cronkite News: Republicans quickly move bill to limit new national monuments
Raymond Hitchcock: Sorry but tribal casinos aren't linked to increases in crime
Osage Nation prepared to fight state over water rights on historic reservation
Eastern Cherokee council complete after second round of voting for one seat
Iowa Tribe announces 'Monsterous' deal linked to long-delayed poker website
Squaxin Island Tribe holds grand opening for remodeled hotel tower at casino
Judge deals tribes major setback with decision in Dakota Access Pipeline case
YES! Magazine: Winnemem Wintu Tribe struggles to bring salmon back home
Native Sun News Today: Rapid City turns out for Native American Day parade
Ivan Star Comes Out: Our teachers shouldn't be doing the jobs of the parents
Non-Indian parents file lawsuit to halt transfer of child custody cases to tribes
County in Oregon holds public hearing on name of 'Dead Indian Memorial Road'
Swinomish Tribe set to open substance abuse treatment center in Washington
All-Native band Warpath from California mixes heavy metal with tribal elements
Ramapough Lunaape Nation defends right to host prayer camp in New Jersey
Chehalis Tribe working with local authorities on fatal shooting outside casino
>>> 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.