Opinion: Disrespect at the Supreme Court

"While the facts of the case [Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land and Cattle Company Inc] are interesting enough, and the legal questions are vitally important, do tribal courts have the jurisdictional power to render decisions against non-Indian banks? It is the banter back and forth during the oral arguments between Chief Justice John Roberts and the Long family's attorney, David Frederick, that I want to draw attention to. The questions posed by both Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia, in particular, display both a profound ignorance of indigenous status and, more depressing, indicate a degree of rank disrespect and rudeness toward tribal businesses and governments that rival anything in American jurisprudential history.

Roberts: One of the points you mentioned earlier is that this is an Indian corporation, and that's a concept I don't understand. If justices Scalia and [Samuel] Alito form a corporation, is that an Italian corporation?


Frederick: I would like to beg the indulgence of the court in not answering that question specifically.


Frederick: My point -

Scalia: And do we get special loan guarantees?


The sarcastic tone of these questions from the justices and the laughter they elicited on the bench and in the courtroom - though we do not know specifically who laughed - powerfully affirm that Native owned corporations, the tribal nations these corporations operate on, and the federal rules and regulations governing such operations, are being accorded far less respect than Legare displayed towards tribes more than a century and a half ago."

Frederick: Well, to the contrary, Mr. Chief Justice. There is a state Supreme Court case on point called Pourier, which we cited in our brief, which says that a majority-owned corporation under South Dakota state law shall be treated as a member of that tribe for the tax purposes that were at issue in that case."

Get the Story:
David Wilkins: A matter of disrespect (Indian Country Today 4/28)

Relevant Documents:
Oral Argument Transcript | Docket Sheet: No. 07-411 | Briefs on the Merits

Appeals Court Decision:
Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land and Cattle Company (June 26, 2007)

Lower Court Decision:
Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land and Cattle Company (July 18, 2006)

Related Decision:
Smith v. Salish Kootenai College (January 10, 2006)

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Opinion: No tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians (3/3)
Supreme Court agrees to hear tribal jurisdiction case (1/8)
Appeals court upholds tribal verdict in bank loan case (6/28)
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