Peter d'Errico: Supreme Court decision cheats Indian Country

Peter d'Errico discusses the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar:
The 2009 Supreme Court decision in Carcieri v. Salazar that derailed the effort of the Secretary of the Interior to take land into trust for the Narragansett is a good example of how a case may turn on the meaning of a single word.

Carcieri centered on the word "now" in the phrase "now under Federal jurisdiction," a definitions clause in the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). The relevance of the definitions was to another section of the IRA giving power to the Secretary to acquire land for Indians.

The question was whether "now" refers to the time the Secretary takes action or the time the statute was enacted. Rhode Island governor, Donald Carcieri, initiated the challenge, and argued for the time of enactment. The state's position was that the Narragansett were not "under federal jurisdiction" in 1934 and that the Secretary therefore has no power to take land into trust for them.

The Interior Board of Indian Appeals, the federal District Court, and the federal Appeals Court all rejected the Rhode Island interpretation, ruling that "now" refers to the time of taking action, which was after the Narragansett were federally-recognized.

The Supreme Court reversed, stating that the word "now" was "unambiguous" in the IRA and could only mean time of enactment. In other words, "now" could only mean "then."

Get the Story:
Peter d'Errico: How Justice Scalia Uses His Own Dictionary to Cheat Indian Country (Indian Country Today 11/9)

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