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Supreme Court considers petition in casino land-into-trust dispute

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Posted by ilani on Friday, March 17, 2017

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UPDATE: The Cowlitz Tribe expects to open its long-awaited casino in late April. The previously reported opening date of April 17 is no longer solid.

The Cowlitz Tribe is less than a month away from debuting its casino but opponents are still hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will derail the project.

The tribe has cleared numerous legal, regulatory and political hurdles in its quest to open the ilani Casino Resort in Washington. The last major one is Citizens Against Reservation Shopping v. Haugrud, a petition that has been submitted to the nation's highest court.

The justices have been accepting briefs as they consider whether or not to hear the case. At issue is whether the tribe qualifies for the land-into-trust process.

The federal government is firmly in the tribe's corner and finally submitted a brief on March 1 that calls on the court to reject the petition. The Trump administration says Bureau of Indian Affairs made the right call when it approved the land-into-trust application for the casino.

A group of non-Indian opponents, including card clubs whose profits are threatened by ilani, filed one last brief on Wednesday in hopes of convincing the justices to hear the dispute. They believe the Supreme Court's decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, a case from 2009, bars the tribe from following the land-into-trust process.

The ilani Casino Resort in Washington is due to open in late April 2017. Photo: Construction Feed

In Carcieri, the court said a tribe must have been "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934 to qualify. The Cowlitz didn't receive formal recognition until 2000.

The BIA, however, concluded that the tribe passed the test. The federal government engaged in treaty negotiations, issued land allotments to Cowlitz citizens and took other actions that confirmed that the tribe was "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934, the Department of Justice argued in the brief.

The competing arguments are now being reviewed by the justices, who have scheduled a closed-door conference on March 31 to consider the petition, according to Docket Sheet No. 16-572. They are expected to issue an order sometime following their meeting that will determine if the case is going on the docket.

So far in its current term, which began in October, the Supreme Court has only heard one Indian law case. Oral arguments in Lewis v. Clarke, a sovereign immunity case, took place on January 9.

D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde Community of Oregon v. Jewell (July 29, 2016)

Department of the Interior Solicitor Opinion:
M-37029: The Meaning of "Under Federal Jurisdiction" for Purposes of the Indian Reorganization Act (March 12, 2014)

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