indianz.com your internet resource indianz.com on facebook indianz.com on twitter indianz.com on Google+
ph: 202 630 8439   fax: 202 318 2182
Fredericks Peebles & Morgan LLP
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

printer friendly version
Trust fund rider faces test in courtroom
Monday, November 24, 2003

The battle over the Indian trust fund moved from the Congress to the courthouse on Friday as the plaintiffs launched a bid to keep the long-running lawsuit alive.

Even though more than 500,000 American Indians have won numerous court decisions affirming their rights, the case is on temporary hold due to high-level political meddling. Over the objections of account holders, tribes and their supporters, the White House and top lawmakers pushed through an appropriations bill that delays the accounting of at least $13 billion in trust funds.

The so-called "midnight rider" is a direct attack on the trust fund lawsuit, filed in 1996 on behalf of Indian beneficiaries around the country. As the Bush administration lost decision after decision in the courts, officials turned to sympathetic lawmakers who were eager to rein in the millions that have been spent, largely unsuccessfully, to correct more than a century of mismanagement.

The legality of those tactics is now before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both parties have filed briefs hoping to sway the court as it considers whether to keep the case on hold or let it move forward.

Led by Elouise Cobell, a banker from the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, the plaintiffs say the rider violates the U.S. Constitution. The legislative branch, they argue, cannot tell the judicial branch how to interpret laws.

"Simply put, the Constitution does not permit the legislature to do ... what it does here: crack open final judgments in specific cases, rewind the process, and then rewrite the law to readjudicate the outcome," the plaintiffs' brief filed on Friday stated.

In seeking to delay the case for up to a year, the Bush administration attorneys say it would cost at least $6 billion to carry out the accounting. They argue that the rider gives Congress a chance to redefine the rights of Indian beneficiaries under the American Indian Trust Reform Act of 1994.

"Congress has now altered the governing law, providing that, pending further congressional action (or decision not to act), neither the 1994 act nor any principles of common law" require an accounting, the government's November 10 brief stated.

Last week, Cobell and attorneys from the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), the non-profit organization handling the lawsuit, made the rounds at the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Cobell thanked lawmakers, like Reps. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and Brad Carson (D-Okla.), and organizations like the National Indian Gaming Association, for their support in trying to defeat the rider.

"Don't cover your ears on this issue," she told NCAI delegates on Tuesday, warning that the use of riders threatens Indian rights beyond just the trust fund case. "I want you to stand strong. I want you to stay strong with us."

At an NCAI session on Wednesday, Special Trustee Ross Swimmer, a Bush administration political appointee, discussed his views on trust reform. He called Cobell's case "an extremely important issue." "It has both benefits and certainly has its downsides in terms of managing the trust and keeping up with what the court wants," he said.

Swimmer discounted as "rumor" the suggestion that money for Indian programs, like education, is being used to fund the Office of Special Trustee, which he heads. He said tribal leaders are kidding themselves if they think Congress would spend that kind of money on Indian Country.

"I'm not going to tell you that it's not important to do a accounting, but I can think of a lot of ways to spend $7 to $8 billion," he said.

Relevant Documents:
Plaintiffs Motion (November 21, 2003) | Government Motion (November 10, 2003)

Relevant Links:
Indian Trust: Cobell v. Norton - http://www.indiantrust.com
Cobell v. Norton, Department of Justice - http://www.usdoj.gov/civil/cases/cobell/index.htm
Indian Trust, Department of Interior - http://www.doi.gov/indiantrust

Related Stories:
Trust reform a big issue at NCAI conference (11/21)
Tribes still frustrated on trust reform (11/20)
Norton finally responds to trust settlement (11/20)
Bush officials blasted by tribal leaders (11/19)
Cobell plaintiffs disputing trust fund rider (11/17)
Appeals court puts trust fund ruling on hold (11/14)
Norton using rider to seek stay of Cobell case (11/12)
Editorial: White House actions on trust 'contemptible' (11/7)
Quick fixes won't solve trust fund problems (11/5)
President Bush 'on the hook' for trust fund delays (11/5)
Norton testimony sought by plaintiffs in trust case (11/5)
Tribal company's work on trust accounting on hold (11/5)
Daschle criticizes 'shameful' rider in DOI budget bill (11/04)
Norton welcomes time-out in Cobell trust fund case (11/4)
Norton appealing Indian trust fund ruling (11/3)
Norton says White House behind trust fund rider (11/3)
House approves trust fund rider in DOI bill (10/31)
Campbell pushes action on trust fund suit (10/30)
Battle brews in House over DOI budget bill (10/30)
Cobell rallies support for trust fund case (10/28)
DOI bill halts Indian trust fund case (10/24)
Bill targets Indian trust fund suit (10/22)
House chairman supports self-governance rider (10/14)
Self-governance tribes fear impact of reorganization (10/09)
Lamberth lays out future of Indian trust reform (09/26)
Court report finds undervaluation of Navajo lands (08/21)
Administration eyes consolidation of Indian appraisals (08/15)
Tally for private attorney fees in Cobell case rises (07/24)
Congress hacks Bush's accounting funds (7/16)
Swimmer partly right on trust fund rider (7/14)
Bush official balks at large settlement for Cobell (7/10)
On trust, lawmakers take Bush officials at face value (06/25)
Private attorneys reap benefits on Cobell case (06/24)
Norton offered settlement funds for IIM trust (6/20)
Lamberth criticizes interference with trust fund case (05/22)
Bush administration turns to Congress on trust (04/04)

Copyright 2000-2003 Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Stay Connected:
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Tim Giago: An independent candidate awakens 'Party' zombies (9/22)
Mark Trahant: Huge crowd turns out for People's Climate March (9/22)
Doug George-Kanentiio: All children are gifts from the Creator (9/22)
Native Sun News: Native women take stand against violence (9/22)
S.E. Ruckman: A remarkable day with arrival of Cobell checks (9/22)
Jon Tester: Bill protects Special Diabetes Program for Indians (9/22)
Dante Desiderio: Working together to address tribal tax issue (9/22)
Vena A-dae Romero: Asserting sovereignty through our food (9/22)
Mark Rogers: Leadership in Native America is at a crossroads (9/22)
Dave Lundgren: BIA must take a closer look at rights-of-way (9/22)
Peter d'Errico: Video uses humor to battle racist NFL mascot (9/22)
Editorial: Poarch Creek gaming deal deserves consideration (9/22)
Native Sun News: Tribes united against Keystone XL Pipeline (9/19)
Regina Brave: The earth that once was will soon be no more (9/19)
Chelsey Luger and Gyasi Ross: A conversation about suicide (9/19)
Cobell settlement checks being cashed across Indian Country (9/19)
Congress passes measure for tribal general welfare programs (9/19)
Native Sun News: US Senate candidates debate Native issues (9/18)
Cobell settlement checks landing in Indian Country mailboxes (9/18)
Sen. Walsh welcomes arrival of last Cobell settlement payout (9/18)
Rep. Daines praises House action on tribal general welfare bill (9/18)
Winnebago attorney joins BIA as a deputy assistant secretary (9/18)
NWIFC schedules briefing on 'Treaty Rights 101' on Capitol Hill (9/18)
Norbert Hill: It's past time to drop the Washington NFL mascot (9/18)
Peter d'Errico: Connecting mascots to racism and termination (9/18)
Opinion: Eliminating NFL team's racist mascot is just the start (9/18)
Student newspaper punished over refusal to print the R-word (9/18)
Officer investigated for 'drunk uneducated animals' comment (9/18)
9th Circuit rules against Chemehuevi Tribe in land deed case (9/18)
Mashable: Oglala Sioux man still pushing MazaCoin currency (9/18)
City won't allow vote on Tohono O'odham Nation casino plan (9/18)
9th Circuit poses tough questions in Big Lagoon casino case (9/18)
North Fork Rancheria banks on voter approval of casino deal (9/18)
KBIC judge dismisses lawsuit challenging plan for new casino (9/18)
Oneida Nation concerned about location of commercial casino (9/18)
Mashantucket Tribe's gaming executive to resign next month (9/18)
Column: Time for Mohegan Tribe to show its hand over casino (9/18)
Native Sun News: Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe honors veterans (9/17)
Mark Trahant: Is independence in the future for tribal nations? (9/17)
Audio: SCIA takes up bill to bar Tohono O'odham Nation casino (9/17)
House approves bill to address tribal general welfare programs (9/17)
House Natural Resources Committee sets markup on tribal bills (9/17)
House subcommittee to hold hearing on bill for Hualapai Tribe (9/17)
9th Circuit takes up Big Lagoon Rancheria gaming land dispute (9/17)
House passes bill to shield Gun Lake Tribe casino from litigation (9/17)
Andre Cramblit: Enjoying life at Dartmouth as a Native student (9/17)
Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Tribes need to lead climate change reform (9/17)
Sarah Deer wins genius grant for work to protect Native women (9/17)
Tex Hall loses bid for another term as chair of North Dakota tribe (9/17)
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.