Aura Bogado: Supreme Court upholds immunity in gaming case

The shuttered Bay Mills Indian Community casino in Vanderbilt, Michigan. Photo © Bay Mills News

Aura Bogado interviews professor Matthew Fletcher about the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community:
This seems like a big change of course for the Supreme Court. Can you explain why this is such a big win for tribal sovereign immunity?

The Supreme Court has been incredibly hostile to tribal interests for the last 25 years. During oral arguments, it seemed almost a given that the court was going to rule against the tribe—the only question was how bad it was going to be. [Part of the reason] this is a win is that had the Supreme Court decided that tribes are not immune from suit when they go off reservation for whatever reason, it would have completely upended a huge swatch of federal Indian law. Tribes would have probably taken money out of bank accounts, off the reservation, and put it in the Cayman Islands—anything to get away from having their assets confiscated by states and federal courts. No doubt in my mind that [if the ruling had been different] tribes would be subject to all kinds of frivolous lawsuits. For those reasons, it’s the biggest win, probably, in the last 25 years for Indian tribes.

Is this Supreme Court ruling the last word on this case, or will we see more about this soon?

For the Bay Mills Indian tribe and the state of Michigan, the decision doesn’t end their dispute over this casino. They’ll still be litigating, probably for the next five years, over everything the Supreme Court left open. The state can still sue the tribe’s governmental officials and perhaps its employees—although that’s a grey area. The state has threatened to use criminal prosecution for anyone who engages in casino operations at the Vanderbilt location. It’s currently closed, but if it reopens the state says they might go in and arrest everyone.

Why did this get all the way to the Supreme Court?

I’m actually currently writing a law article about how the facts are so crazy in this case and the personalities are so outrageous that the court granted this case for those reasons. Nobody really knew what to do. Nobody has ever had the audacity to just buy a chunk of land anywhere in the state and open a casino on it. Nobody’s ever tried that.

Get the Story:
Aura Bogado: Supreme Court Sides With Tribe in Surprising Ruling (Colorlines 6/17)

Supreme Court Decision:
Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community (May 27, 2014)

Oral Arguments on the Indianz.Com SoundCloud:

Relevant Documents:
Oral Argument Transcript | Supreme Court Docket Sheet No. 12-515 | Supreme Court Order List

Related Stories
KGOU: Tribal immunity attacked in Supreme Court casino case (06/09)

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