Lloyd Miller: Supreme Court vindicates tribes in contract case

"On June 18 the Supreme Court issued a rare decision favoring Indian Tribes in a one billion dollar case pitting the Tribes against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Indian Health Service. The epic battle had been brewing for over 20 years and asked whether federal contracts with Tribes awarded under the Indian Self-Determination Act are really contracts at all. The government argued that it could pay whatever it wants, whenever it wants, even after the Tribes had fully performed their end of the bargain. Over the years, ten of twelve federal judges who considered the matter had excused the government from liability, so the outcome in the Supreme Court was far from certain. But if the Supreme Court had adopted the view of those lower court judges, it would have meant that tribal contracts are not contracts at all — a result that would have destroyed the foundation of the Indian Self-Determination Act on which Tribes operate one-half of all BIA and IHS operations, and it would have relegated Indian Tribes to second-class contractors.

That was a bridge too far, and the Supreme Court was unwilling to cross it. In an unusual alignment bringing together the Court’s most liberal and conservative members — Justices Scalia Thomas, Sotomayor and Kagan — plus Justice Kennedy, the Court resolved the case in the Tribes’ favor based strictly on ordinary government contract law principles. The result is precisely what Congress intended."

Get the Story:
Lloyd Miller: Supreme Court Vindicates Tribal Contract Rights (Indian Country Today 8/5)

Supreme Court Decision:
Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter (June 18, 2012)

Federal Circuit Decision:
Arctic Slope Native Association (December 15, 2010)

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Supreme Court backs tribes in self-determination contract case (6/18)
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Turtle Talk: Commentary on self-determination argument (4/19)
Supreme Court transcript from self-determination case (4/18)
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10th Circuit sides with tribes on self-determination contracts (5/9)

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