California attorney general won't comment on Big Lagoon case

California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D). Photo from Facebook

California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) isn't commenting on the state's historic loss in the Big Lagoon Rancheria casino case.

Harris, who is running for U.S. Senate, tried to block the small tribe from pursuing a casino on an 11-acre site that was placed in trust in 1994. Her arguments struck fear across Indian Country, raising concerns that anyone could go back in time and challenge the status of tribal lands.

"The principles at stake in this case matter for scores of tribes and millions of acres of tribal land," Sam Hirsch, a top official at the Department of Justice who argued the case on behalf of the federal government, told The Los Angeles Times. "We had a responsibility to stand up for those American Indians whose interests were endangered."

An en banc panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected every argument raised by Harris in the case. The vote among the 11 judges was unanimous.

An aerial view of Big Lagoon, home to the Big Lagoon Rancheria in California. Photo by Jim Popenoe

The court upheld a finding that the state failed to negotiate a Class III gaming compact in "good faith" as required by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. With the victory in hand, the tribe will continue to pursue the casino at Big Lagoon in northern California, an attorney said.

"It's a meaningful decision," attorney Peter Engstrom told the paper. "And it's the right decision, by a unanimous and obviously thoughtful en banc panel."

Though she hasn't commented, Harris could let the state come to the negotiating table. Or she could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, a lengthy process that could interfere with her Senate campaign.

Get the Story:
Northern California tribe wins right to develop casino (The Los Angeles Times 6/10)

En Banc 9th Circuit Decision:
Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California (June 4, 2015)

Earlier 9th Circuit Decision:
Big Lagoon Rancheria v. California (January 21, 2014)

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