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
Kill The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines

Printer friendly version
Cobell sees positive in Supreme Court rulings
MONDAY, MARCH 17, 2003

The Supreme Court's recent rulings on the federal trust relationship reaffirm the rights of individual Indian beneficiaries, according to the lead plaintiff in the billion dollar trust fund lawsuit.

Elouise Cobell, former treasurer for the Blackfeet Nation of Montana, was disappointed that the justices rejected the Navajo Nation's $600 million breach of trust claim. But their decision in favor of the White Mountain Tribe of Arizona forces the federal government to act like a trustee, she said.

"We have a Supreme Court ruling that says common law trust standards prevail," Cobell said.

Filed in 1996, the Cobell case is based on a relatively simple theory. By managing the assets and funds of American Indians, the U.S. acts a fiduciary and is subject to all the laws, standards and practices of a private trustee, the plaintiffs assert.

The Bush administration directly challenged that notion by seeking Supreme Court review of two seemingly unrelated tribal trust cases. In court papers, Department of Justice attorneys argued that the government can't be sued for breach of trust without its consent. They also said the government doesn't have any trust obligations beyond those explicitly mentioned in federal law.

Although the Navajo Nation lost by a 6-3 vote, the ruling rejected the first line of reasoning. The Indian Tucker Act, wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the majority, authorizes tribal suits against the government.

The 5-4 White Mountain Apache decision responded to the second defense. Since the Department of Interior maintained control over trust property belonging to the tribe, it is subject to common law trust duties, wrote Justice David Souter for the majority.

"[T]he fact that the property occupied by the United States is expressly subject to a trust supports a fair inference that an obligation to preserve the property improvements was incumbent on the United States as trustee," the decision stated. "This is so because elementary trust law, after all, confirms the common sense assumption that a fiduciary actually administering trust property may not allow it to fall into ruin on his watch."

Robert Brauchli, an attorney based in Tucson, Arizona, successfully argued the Apache case. Although the tribe is asking for monetary damages, while the Cobell suit seeks equitable relief, he noted the parallels.

"The White Mountain Apache Tribe decision is very supportive of the Cobell case," he said in an interview. "I can't think of a stronger case for liability. There is total control of the estate by the trustee. The obligations necessarily flow from that total control."

The majority opinion noted that forcing the government to act as a trustee can't always make Indian beneficiaries whole. Cobell argued that this language was strong backing for beneficiary rights.

"What the Supreme Court did was open up the door," she said. "If we want to come back for damages, we can."

The Cobell case is currently proceeding on two fronts. Secretary of Interior Gale Norton and former Indian affairs aide Neal McCaleb are seeking to overturn their recent contempt convictions. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments on April 24.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth has scheduled a trial starting in May to address reform of the trust system. The Cobell plaintiffs have submitted suggestions based on common law trust standards, a position that drew backing from the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), which represents more than 200 tribes, in an amicus brief.

On the other hand, the tribes noted, the Department of Interior's plan seemed to be banking on the Supreme Court to overrule its common law trust duties.

Navajo Nation Decision:
Syllabus | Opinion [Ginsburg] | Dissent [Souter]

White Mountain Apache Tribe Decision:
Syllabus | Opinion [Souter] | Concurrence [Ginsburg] | Dissent [Thomas]

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
Trust Reform, NCAI - http://www.ncai.org/main/pages/
issues/other_issues/trust_reform.asp

Related Stories:
Appropriators question historical accounting (3/13)
DOI sanctioned for 'deceit' (3/12)
IIM accounting keeps changing (3/12)
Hall: Tribes 'at the table' in Cobell (3/10)
Navajo Nation fallout considered (3/7)
Supreme Court upholds common law trust claim (3/5)
High court ruling makes 'passive' trustee of U.S. (3/5)
A mixed bag for Indian trust (3/5)
Supreme Court issues trust decisions (3/4)
Panel predicts Apache victory (12/4)
Court considers Navajo dispute (12/3)
U.S. pressed on trust duties (12/3)

Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...
Local Links:
Federal Register | Indian Gaming | Jobs & Notices | In The Hoop | Message Board
Latest News:
Native Sun News: Native nations unite on uranium mine cleanup (7/29)
House Subcommittee on Indian and Alaska Native Affairs hearing (7/29)
Witness List: SCIA hearing on natural disasters in Indian Country (7/29)
Gyasi Ross: Tribes put principle over profit in banning Ted Nugent (7/29)
Steven Newcomb: UN perpetuates dominance of Native peoples (7/29)
WyoFile: Tribes depend on Medicaid funding for health services (7/29)
Editorial: Washington team's 'racial slur' has no place in society (7/29)
Review: 'Unreal City' exploits coal from Hopi and Navajo tribes (7/29)
Senate bill introduced to kill Tohono O'odham Nation casino bid (7/29)
Editorial: Proposed Pojoaque Pueblo compact hurts New Mexico (7/29)
Tim Giago: Lakota and Pueblo Indians on Pine Ridge Reservation (7/28)
Native Sun News: President of Oglala Sioux Tribe dodges bullets (7/28)
Puyallup fashion designer competes for prize in Project Runway (7/28)
Senate Indian Affairs Committee sets business meeting on bills (7/28)
NIEA heads to Capitol Hill to advocate for Native language bills (7/28)
Obama signs Pascua Yaqui and Hoonah Indian Association bills (7/28)
Ho-Chunk Inc executive Lance Morgan receives business honor (7/28)
Charles Roessel: BIE reform plan includes teacher certification (7/28)
Troy Eid: Marijuana experiment in Colorado hurts Indian youth (7/28)
BIA hosts scoping meeting on Paiute Tribe land-into-trust bid (7/28)
Cherokee Nation program keeps former inmates out of prison (7/28)
Grand Ronde Tribes disenroll 86 descendants of treaty signer (7/28)
Protest targets disenrollments within Saginaw Chippewa Tribe (7/28)
At least 10 tribes adopt laws to recognize same-sex mariages (7/28)
KUOW: Coeur d'Alene Tribe cleans meth houses with EPA funds (7/28)
Law Article: Supreme Court sends reminder on tribal immunity (7/28)
Unsettled: Passamaquoddy Tribe awaits constitutional reform (7/28)
KGOU: Indian Times review of news affecting Oklahoma tribes (7/28)
Judge hears dispute over United Keetoowah Band gaming site (7/28)
Chumash Tribe plans hotel tower with $160M casino expansion (7/28)
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe changes architects for casino plan (7/28)
Soo Tribe casino partner was developer behind failed racetrack (7/28)
Editorial: State must negotiate compact with Pojoaque Pueblo (7/28)
Native Sun News: IHS hospital at Pine Ridge undergoes review (7/25)
Ivan Star Comes Out: Group disturbs tranquility at Bear Butte (7/25)
Indian Health Service discloses privacy breach of patient data (7/25)
BIA extends comment period on federal recognition regulation (7/25)
Navajo Nation president calling for FBI probe of brutal murders (7/25)
Jennie Stockle: Justice for victims of Cedarville mass shooting (7/25)
John Christian Hopkins: Waiting for Belgian waffles at Denny's (7/25)
Steven Pevar: Indian chldren are being taken from their homes (7/25)
IHS pays $53M to settle another contract support cost dispute (7/25)
Shinnecock Nation asserts control over tobacco amid pressure (7/25)
Four sentenced for stealing HHS funds from Oglala Sioux Tribe (7/25)
Unsettled: BIA questions Passamaquoddy forest management (7/25)
ASU News: First graduates of Indian studies master's program (7/25)
Blog: Tanka Fund aims to grow Indian Country's bison economy (7/25)
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.