Litigation | Opinion

Jenn Weddle: 'Best possible result' from Supreme Court in sovereignty case

Replicas of wigwams at the Tantaquidgeon Museum on the Mohegan Reservation in Connecticut. Photo: Bob Nichols / U.S. Department of Agriculture

Was the defeat in a tribal sovereign immunity case all that bad for Indian Country? Attorney Jennifer Weddle, from the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, looks all the fallout from the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lewis v. Clarke:
This was the best possible result in this case (a narrow remand). Justice Sotomayor’s opinion keeps tribal employees on equal footing with federal and state employees and decides the import of indemnification provisions – really have nothing to do with Indian law and instead having everything to do with government employee indemnification law. The result seems to be a reasonable limiting principle for the Court.

The Court also left open the official immunity arguments (upon which amici focused) because those were not raised by Clarke in his motion to dismiss. The record didn’t have findings on that, but the NCAI/States/Tribes amici brief laid out the arguments as an ‘alternative theory’ as to why the Connecticut Supreme Court had been right in the result.

It is reasonable to anticipate that Clarke will now argue those matters on remand. And this case will go back to Connecticut District Court, with the Lewises now divorced and vastly undercutting their loss of consortium claims, such that the remand may well go away quickly in settlement before it even begins.

Read More on the Story:
Jenn Weddle Guest Commentary on Lewis v. Clarke (Turtle Talk 4/25)

Another View:
Opinion analysis by Todd Henderson: Justices decline to extend sovereign immunity to tribe employees (SCOTUSBlog 4/25)

U.S. Supreme Court Decision:
Syllabus [Summary of Outcome] | Opinion [Sotomayor] | Concurrence [Thomas] | Concurrence [Ginsburg]

U.S. Supreme Court Documents:
Docket Sheet No. 15-1500 | Questions Presented | Oral Argument Transcript

Connecticut Supreme Court Decision:
Lewis v. Clarke (March 15, 2016)

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