Harold Monteau: Justice Sotomayor a lone ranger for Indians

"Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s recent safari to New Mexico to meet the Pueblo people and to make a guest appearance at a student forum at the University of New Mexico School of Law, had all the indicia of an apologist diplomatic mission (although she has nothing for which to apologize.) Without ever mentioning the recent U.S. v. Jicarilla Supreme Court decision in which she was the lone dissent in a 5 to 2 to 1 split decision, she tacitly acknowledged the recent maltreatment of American Indians in Federal Courts in general and the need for more American Indian Judges in the federal system.

The Jicarilla case saw a bare majority of five essentially turn back the accepted tenets of the Indian trust relationship to a version of the relationship that was first set forth by the court starting around the end of the 1890s and culminating in the Supreme Court decision in Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock (1910). The Lone Wolf decision pretty much said that our federal trustee could do whatever it thought it should do with our trust corpus (land), as federal policy dictated. This included the “plenary power” of opening it up for homesteading, selling it and giving the proceeds to the Indians, whether the Indians wanted the money or not.

Justice Sotomayor is a “Lone Ranger” type hero in the Indian Law community for her courageous but singular attempt to mitigate the damage in what she saw as a Supreme Court decision that was and will prove to be damaging to tribal sovereignty and damaging to the definition of the Indian trust beneficiaries’ trust relationship with the U.S. which the Supreme Court had refined over the past 100 years."

Get the Story:
Harold Monteau: Supreme Court May Have a Different Opinion About Cobell (Indian Country Today 10/3)

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