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Supreme Court case draws tribal attention

Alarmed by arguments that state governments are advancing to the Supreme Court, tribal leaders are entering the debate over a case that could expand state police powers over tribal governments.

With oral arguments in Inyo County v. Bishop Paiute Tribe fast approaching, National Congress of American Indians (NCAI) President Tex Hall said it was necessary to act soon. "This issue is too important to do anything less," he told attendees of organization's winter session yesterday.

Hall pointed to language contained in an amicus brief submitted last month by ten state attorneys general. Backing the actions of officials of Inyo County in California who seized records belonging to the Paiute tribe's casino, the states said they should have jurisdiction to investigate alleged crimes that occur off and even on reservations.

"You gotta wonder who is the lawless one in this case," Hall responded. "A sheriff who uses boltcutters to break into a tribal government building . . . or the tribe."

Tribes and states aren't the only ones who have taken an interest in the case, considered a follow-up to 2001's Nevada v. Hicks, which involved police powers of individual Indians. The National Sheriffs' Association, the California State Sheriffs' Association and the Los Angeles Country district attorney have filed briefs, urging the Supreme Court to uphold the casino search and seizure.

"All Indian casinos seek to attract non-Indian customers, who are largely unaware that they are entering an enclave isolated from any state and county law enforcement protection," wrote L.A. district attorney Steve Cooley.

By the end of this week, the tribes hope to have their brief finalized, a passage of which highlights tribal interest in ensuring law and order on their lands. They also plan to submit as evidence dozens of cooperative law enforcement agreements entered into by tribes and state and local governments.

Amadeo Shije, chairman of the All Indian Pueblo Council of New Mexico, said entering the case was an issue of life or death. "How much do you love your people?" he asked. "How much do you love your sovereignty? What price are you willing to pay?'

Oral arguments are set for March 31. John Echohawk, executive director of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), said a decision would probably be ready later this summer.

Bishop Paiute Tribe | Inyo County | United States | State Attorneys General | National Sheriff's Association | Los Angeles County

Decision Below:
BISHOP PAIUTE TRIBE v. COUNTY OF INYO No. 01-15007 (January 4, 2002)

Relevant Documents:
Docket Sheet: No. 02-281 | Senate Testimony: Monty Bengochia on Supreme Court Precedents

Related Stories:
Showdown looms in tribal sovereignty case (02/20)
S.D. tribe to accept state subpoenas (2/19)
S.D. puts pressure on tribal sovereignty (2/12)
Supreme Court work at issue as judge debated (01/30)
State power over tribal government in dispute (12/03)

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