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
The University of Tulsa College of Law - Master's in Indian Law
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...
Stay Connected:
On Facebook

On Twitter

On Google+

On SoundCloud
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Department of Justice accuses city of trespassing on Pueblo lands (5/6)
Native Sun News: Navajo citizens battle power plant on reservation (5/6)
Lakota Country Times: Rosebud Sioux Tribe sues IHS over shutdown (5/6)
Delphine Red Shirt: Lakota language speakers belong in classrooms (5/6)
Clara Caufield: Learning to fly with my fellow eagles and eaglettes (5/6)
Editorial: Empowerment zone slips away on Pine Ridge Reservation (5/6)
Fawn Sharp: Only one candidate knows Indian Country's struggles (5/6)
Gyasi Ross: Voting for the lesser of two evils in this crazy election (5/6)
Harold Monteau: Raising awareness about autism in Indian Country (5/6)
Large crowd gathers to say goodbye to slain 11-year-old Navajo girl (5/6)
Haskell University to raise funds for long-overdue campus upgrades (5/6)
Warm Springs Tribes break ground on greenhouse to grow marijuana (5/6)
Yurok Tribe blames low fish runs on water used by marijuana farms (5/6)
Eastern Cherokees move to pay off more than $96M in existing debt (5/6)
Lumbee Tribe promotes annual powwow with help of local Walmart (5/6)
Timbisha Shoshone Tribe plans to pay $5.5M to acquire gaming site (5/6)
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community asked to resubmit casino project (5/6)
Winnebago Tribe's corporation wins approval to restart horse races (5/6)
Study confirms high rate of violence against Native women and men (5/5)
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs schedules meeting and hearing (5/5)
Native Sun News: Group aims to bring positive change to Rapid City (5/5)
Lakota Country Times: Rosebud Sioux Tribe updates education code (5/5)
Mark Trahant: Native candidates being left behind in big money race (5/5)
Brandon Ecoffey: Governor's comments harken back to painful era (5/5)
Ivan Star Comes Out: White domination in America is under threat (5/5)
Jennifer Denetdale: Navajo Nation panel examines gender violence (5/5)
Leader of Navajo Nation Council criticizes coverage of girl's death (5/5)
Sen. Rounds to seek system-wide review of Indian Health Service (5/5)
Elouise Cobell being considered for Presidential Medal of Freedom (5/5)
Nottawaseppi Huron Band to prosecute non-Indians under VAWA (5/5)
Gathering of Nations must find new venue after end of agreement (5/5)
Brothers awarded $450K for anti-Indian beating at New Mexico bar (5/5)
Eastern Shoshone Tribe pays $1.7M to acquire land on reservation (5/5)
Nambe Pueblo pays off remaining funds owed to gaming developer (5/5)
States with less Indian gaming presence rank higher for addictions (5/5)
Cowlitz Tribe hosts forums on casino construction and related work (5/5)
Editorial: New commercial casino won't hurt St. Regis Mohawk Tribe (5/5)
Navajo Nation reeling after arrest made in 11-year-old girl's death (5/4)
Bureau of Indian Affairs adds names to memorial for fallen officers (5/4)
Bureau of Indian Affairs updates list of federally recognized tribes (5/4)
Bureau of Indian Affairs finalizes rule for burial assistance program (5/4)
National Indian Gaming Commission selects first vice chair in years (5/4)
Lakota Country Times: Oglala Sioux Tribe assists vets with housing (5/4)
Native Sun News: Northern Cheyenne Tribe pushed to hold election (5/4)
Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribal Tribune: Tribes fight coal mine in Texas (5/4)
Jim Kent: Governor of South Dakota blissfully ignorant about tribes (5/4)
Ernestine Chasing Hawk: Who made the decision to kill Anna Mae? (5/4)
Suzan Shown Harjo: Delete 'off the reservation' from our discourse (5/4)
Simon Moya-Smith: Donald Trump sees Indian people going 'wild' (5/4)
Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Native issues are afterthought for candidates (5/4)
Blackfeet Nation to see $107M from Cobell land buy-back program (5/4)
Nooksack Tribe fires judge and loses attorney in enrollment crisis (5/4)
Democrat Bernie Sanders staying in race as last Republicans quit (5/4)
Choctaw Nation offered settlements in fatal casino bus accident (5/4)
Keweenaw Bay Indian Community fails to sell governor on casino (5/4)
Shakopee Tribe starts work on casino hotel and convention center (5/4)
Editorial: Work with Cloverdale Rancheria rather than fight casino (5/4)
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.