"It’s time for a review of what the Supreme Court did in Indian law this Term, since the Term will end in a few weeks.
Consistent with the last 15 years or so (maybe 20), the Court was very hostile to tribal interests. The Roberts Court’s view of Indian law has changed slightly from the Rehnquist Court; frankly, for tribal interests, to the worse. All of the Indian law cases decided by the Court this Term could be construed as “error correction,” cases in which the Court (usually unanimously) believed the lower court made an egregious error. This appears to be a trend in the recent years, in which the Roberts Court will only grant certiorari in cases to correct these egregious errors. The Court does not see Indian law as a dynamic area of law — Indian law cases are very easy for most of the Justices — nor are Indian law cases vehicles for examining important issues of constitutional law beyond federal Indian law.
For the Roberts Court, Indian law cases are easy for a couple reasons. First, state government interests always trump tribal interests, and every case in which tribes defeat states strongly attracts the attention of the Court. The reverse simply is not true. It is my sense that the Roberts Court is happy to rest on the fact that state sovereignty is strongly protected by the text of the Constitution, and tribal sovereignty is not. Second, the long, complicated, and important history of federal Indian law and policy is utterly unimportant to the Roberts Court. Longstanding practice, legislative history, and simple Indian affairs history does nothing to persuade a majority of the Court, with only Justice Stevens paying much attention to it."
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Review of OT 2008: Indian Law Cases in the Supreme Court
(Turtle Talk 6/14)