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Supreme Court rejects state jurisdiction appeal

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a case testing the reach of state jurisdiction over Indian-owned property.

Without comment, the justices rejected a Washington county's attempt to impose its regulations on land located within the boundaries of the Tulalip Reservation. The move lets stand a unanimous 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that declared such an intrusion "unprecedented."

Marc D. Slonim, attorney for two Tulalip tribal members who own a construction business on the reservation and want to build new homes, praised the latest development. "We're pleased that the case is over," he said yesterday.

So was Tracy Labin, a Native American Rights Fund (NARF) attorney who is actively monitoring cases that have the potential to impact tribal rights nationwide. She said that the issue of state jurisdiction over Indian fee land was likely settled with last September's 9th Circuit opinion.

Tom Fitzpatrick, a spokesperson for Snohomish County, saw it another way. "It will have a huge effect on local government," he said. He argued that only one part of the case -- that the land in question was owned by tribal members -- was resolved with finality.

"It doesn't address the issue of partial ownership," he said.

Kim Gobin and her brother Guy Madison sought and gained approval from their tribe to build 25 homes on 25 acres of fee land they own. The Tulalip Tribes, known as a leader in economic development, have an exhaustive set of land use regulations.

But those conflict with the county's, which is the fastest growing in the state. Were its regulations to apply, the siblings would have to restrict the number of homes to 10, among other conditions.

To back its stance, the county cited two Supreme Court cases that authorize state jurisdiction over Indian fee land. But the 9th Circuit said those precedents apply to taxation not regulation.

"The policy of leaving Indians free from state jurisdiction is deeply rooted in our nation's history," wrote Circuit Judge Stephen S. Trott for the majority.

Slonim said he expects the development to proceed now that the cloud of litigation has been removed. The new homes are being marketed to high-end customers.

The Tribal Supreme Court Project, a joint effort of NARF and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), probably would have submitted an amicus brief had the case been accepted, Labin said.

Relevant Documents:
Docket Sheet: No. 02-1029

Decision Below:
GOBIN v. SNOHOMISH COUNTY, No. 00-36031 (9th Cir. September 18, 2002)

Relevant Links:
Tulalip Tribes - http://www.tulaliptribes.com
Snohomish County - http://www.co.snohomish.wa.us

Related Stories:
Indian land case being reviewed (3/3)
Indian fee land free from state control (09/19)
Wash. tribe confronts land-use problems (8/7)

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