Supreme Court delays review of Seneca Nation land case again

The last steel beam was placed atop a new $40 million structure at the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, New York, on May 11, 2016. Photo from Facebook

The U.S. Supreme Court has once again delayed consideration of a long-running gaming case involving the Seneca Nation of New York.

The justices have twice listed Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County v. Chaudhuri for closed-door conferences on May 12 and May 19. But each time the petition was pulled for unexplained reasons.

The case has since been relisted for a conference this Thursday. While the delay is not unusual in itself, it reflects a slowdown in the court's activities following the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Only six new cases have been granted since Scalia's death in February. That's fewer than the number at around the same time last year.

It only takes a vote of four justices to agree to hear a particular case so Scalia's absence doesn't necessarily prevent the court from granting new petitions. By a lighter docket would help prevent 4-4 ties or other situations that can contribute to legal uncertainties.

An artist's rendering of the $40 million structure at the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in Buffalo, New York. Photo from Facebook

In the case involving the Seneca Nation, opponents claim the Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino in downtown Buffalo, New York, does not qualify for gaming under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with that contention in a unanimous September 2015 decision.

The facility has been open since July 2007 and the tribe is on track to complete a $40 million expansion in the spring of 2017. A grant in the case would not immediately affect operations there but a negative decision might raise some legal issues that could easily be addressed by Congress or through administrative actions.

The tribe is not a party to the lawsuit. Opponents instead sued the National Indian Gaming Commission in hopes of securing a ruling against the casino.

The Supreme Court historically has stayed out of Indian gaming disputes. The last case that directly addressed IGRA was Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community from May 2014. Before that was Chickasaw Nation v. US in 2001.

Both of those cases drew significant interest in Indian Country. In contrast, the Seneca Nation petition only drew one outside brief -- from the anti-Indian Citizens Equal Rights Foundation.

2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Citizens Against Casino Gambling in Erie County v. Chaudhuri (September 15, 2015)

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