your internet resource on facebook on twitter on Google+ on soundcloud
phone: 202 630 8439
Dynamic Homes
Advertise on Indianz.Com
Home > News > Headlines
Print   Subscribe
Supreme Court nominee acknowledges poor treatment of 'sovereign' tribes

Filed Under: Law | National | Politics
More on: 115th, andrew yellowbear, chuck grassley, democrats, dianne feinstein, donald trump, judiciary, neal katyal, neil gorsuch, osage, religion, republicans, senate, shannon edwards, sovereignty, supreme court, sweat lodges, utah, ute

Native women rally at the U.S. Supreme Court on December 7, 2015. Photo by Indianz.Com / Available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

The U.S. Supreme Court hasn't always been kind to Indian Country but a federal judge from Colorado appears ready to ensure tribes will be treated fairly when they come before him.

Neil Gorsuch has served on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for a decade. During that time, he's sided with tribal interests in sovereignty, trust and religious freedom cases.

"Tribes are, as you know, sovereign nations," Gorsuch said on Tuesday, his first full day of questioning before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.

"Our constitutional order affords this body considerable power in dealing with those sovereign nations by treaty and otherwise," he added, referring to the authority of the U.S. Congress to legislate in the area of Indian affairs.

During his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, and again during additional testimony on Wednesday, Gorsuch and his Republican supporters repeatedly pointed to his decisions in three key cases as a sign of his experience and fairness. In Ute Tribe v. Utah, he defended the Ute Tribe against repeated attacks by state and local officials; in Fletcher v. U.S., he backed the right of citizens of the Osage Nation to seek an historical accounting of their trust funds from the federal government; and in Yellowbear v. Lampert, he ensured a citizen of the Northern Arapaho Tribe could gain access to a sweat lodge while in prison.

"Our history with Native Americans is not the prettiest history," Gorsuch said on Tuesday as he brought up the Ute and Fletcher cases.

"As a judge, you try very hard to administer the law fairly, without respect to the persons, and equally," Gorsuch continued.

On Wednesday, Gorsuch expanded on the sweat lodge case. He said it was clear that prison officials were punishing Andrew Yellowbear, who is serving a life sentence for murdering his 22-month-old daughter, by denying him the right to exercise his religion.

"The government," he said, referring to state of Wyoming, "couldn't come up with a good reason why it couldn't provide Mr. Yellowbear with access to the sweat lodge."

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary opened confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on March 20, 2017. Photo: Sen. Chuck Grassley

The three cases aren't the only Indian law controversies that have come before Gorsuch during his time on the 10th Circuit, which covers Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming -- all states with significant Native American populations. A more comprehensive review of his record shows he ruled in favor of tribal interests 57 percent of the time.

While that rate may not appear impressive, it's far better than that of the late Antonin Scalia, whom Gorsuch has been nominated to replace. Scalia went against tribes in nearly every case and his passing in February 2016 is giving hope that the nation's highest court might treat Indian Country more fairly.

"When compared to Justice Scalia’s Indian law record, the conclusion drawn is that Indian tribes will likely have a better chance on their cases with Gorsuch on the court," the non-profit Native American Rights Fund wrote in its analysis.

Gorsuch is wrapping up his testimony on Wednesday evening but his confirmation hearing will continue for one more day on Thursday. That's when Shannon Edwards, a citizen of the Osage Nation, is scheduled to appear before the Judiciary panel.

Edwards, who serves on the Osage Nation Congress, is testifying on behalf of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. She helped review Gorsuch's record and her efforts earned him a "well qualified" rating from the organization.

Despite the accolades, Democrats have been reluctant to embrace Gorsuch. They have questioned whether he will bring a more conservative tilt to the Supreme Court, whose members are often divided along party lines, and if he can remain sufficiently independent of President Donald Trump, who has been extremely critical of the judiciary.

"There is no appointment that is more pivotal to the court than this one. This has a real world impact on all of us," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California), the top Democrat on the committee.

Feinstein's concerns centered on a theme that Democrats frequently brought up since the proceedings began on Monday. They wondered whether Gorsuch will stand up for the "little guy" if he is confirmed to the nation's highest court.

Neal Katyal, a familiar face due to his work on Indian issues, including on the Tribal Supreme Court Project, told committee members that they shouldn't be worried. The former Obama administration official has argued before the justices more than 30 times -- the most recent was a tribal sovereign immunity case in January -- and he said Gorsuch will treat everyone fairly.

"As a judge, he has displayed a resolute commitment to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary," Katyal said of the nominee on Monday. "Even those who disagree with him concede that the judge’s decisions are meticulously crafted and grounded in the law and our constitution. And when the judge believes that the government has overstepped its powers, he is willing to rule against it."

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary panel, plans to bring Gorsuch's nomination to vote on April 3. Republican leaders then hope to schedule a full vote on the Senate a week later.

If confirmed, Gorsuch would finally fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court that was created by Scalia's passing in February 2016. The remaining eight justices have continued to hear and resolve cases although some ended up in 4-4 ties, including one in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a closely-watched tribal jurisdiction dispute.

Although the justices didn't arrive at a decision in the case, their deadlock was beneficial to Indian Country. The tie ended up affirming a lower court ruling in favor of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Native American Rights Fund Documents:
The Nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States – An Indian Law Perspective | Neil Gorsuch: Summary of Indian Law Cases

Related Stories:
Supreme Court nominee fares well in review of Indian law record (3/20)
Trump administration given more time for appeal in tribal gaming case (03/17)
Trump administration backs Cowlitz Tribe in Supreme Court brief (03/07)
Supreme Court turns down another tribal disenrollment dispute (02/27)
Tribes find common ground with Donald Trump on Supreme Court nominee (02/17)
Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee well versed in Indian law (2/1)
Trump team gets more time on Supreme Court tribal casino case (1/31)
Trump ready to announce nominee for Supreme Court vacancy (1/30)
Supreme Court declines petition in Indian Child Welfare Act case (01/09)
Trump administration given more time for appeal in tribal gaming case (03/17)
Trump administration backs Cowlitz Tribe in Supreme Court brief (03/07)
Supreme Court turns down another tribal disenrollment dispute (02/27)
Tribes find common ground with Donald Trump on Supreme Court nominee (02/17)
Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee well versed in Indian law (2/1)
Trump team gets more time on Supreme Court tribal casino case (1/31)
Trump ready to announce nominee for Supreme Court vacancy (1/30)
Supreme Court declines petition in Indian Child Welfare Act case (01/09)

Copyright © Indianz.Com
More headlines...

Latest Headlines:

Trump administration rolls out first rule under historic trust reform law
Interior Department sends out another $13.1M in Cobell buy-back offers
Senate Committee on Indian Affairs headed to New Mexico for hearing
House committee again leaves out Indian Country in hearing on Interior
Mark Maxey: Oklahoma tries to crush Native protesters with new law
Carletta Tilousi: Havasupai Tribe threatened by uranium development
Opinion: Don't be fooled by Jimmie Durham's claims of Cherokee heritage
Opinion: Economic development for Indian Country in upcoming farm bill
Government worker suspended after calling Native principal a 'rabid s----'
Kiowa citizen Tristan Ahtone to report on tribes for High Country News
New York Times features Dina Gilio-Whitaker in editorial on health care
Tribes break ground on monument to their history in Virginia's capitol
Warm Springs Tribes battle large wildfire that broke out behind casino
Spokane Tribe casino doesn't bother Air Force despite claims in lawsuit
Tribes in for long haul as oil continues to flow through Dakota Access
Mark Trahant: Don't plan on getting sick if you're from Indian Country
Tiffany Midge: I shall joke as long as the grass grows and the rivers flow
Director of Office of Indian Energy deletes offensive Twitter account
States cheer decision on grizzly bears amid tribal concerns about hunts
Washington asks high court to overturn Yakama Nation treaty victory
New York Times editorial board reconsiders stance on racist trademarks
Colville Tribes remove council member a week before citizens go to polls
Marijuana firm promises big investments with help of ex-Seminole chair
Lumbee Tribe ordered to release voter list to opponents of chairman
National Indian Gaming Association chooses David Bean as vice chair
Eastern Cherokee citizen promoted to vice president of casino marketing
Tribes in Connecticut waiting on governor to sign bill for new casino
Secretary Zinke removes protections for grizzlies over tribal objections
Court sets final deadline for remaining payments from Cobell settlement
Mary Annette Pember: Indian Child Welfare Act strengthens our families
Peter d'Errico: Navajo authors offer fresh perspective on sovereignty
Native woman was jailed and forced to ride with assailant during trial
Ute Mountain Ute Tribe challenges new permit for uranium operation
Montana tribes get new member of Congress who pleaded to assault
Connecticut tribes welcome court decision favoring new casino law
Pueblo tribes dispute state's demand for $40M in gaming revenues
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe remains confident of approval of casino
Nooksack Tribe accepting slot tickets while casino remains closed
Key House committee under fire for moving slowly on tribal agenda
Tribes go it alone on climate change as Trump team shifts priorities
Bryan Newland: President Trump's budget threatens tribal treaties
Steve Russell: The GI Bill changed the United States for the better
Harold Monteau: Democrats lack proactive agenda, proactive strategy
St. Regis Mohawk Tribe orders 20 non-citizens to leave reservation
Wilton Rancheria accused of working too closely with city on casino
Witness list for hearing on bill to reform the Indian Health Service
Arne Vainio: What does the princess want to be when she grows up?
Doug George-Kanentiio: 'Spirit Game' brings Iroquois lacrosse to life
Cronkite News: Navajo activist vows fight against racist NFL mascot
Eric Hannel: Addressing the health care crisis among Native Americans
Bill for tribal regalia at graduation ceremonies advances in California
Ramapough Lunaape Nation wins reversal of ruling on prayer camp
Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe still waits on casino ruling from Trump team
Another former leader of Winnebago Tribe pleads in gaming theft case
Supreme Court ruling poses hurdle for opponents of racist NFL mascot
Change the Mascot campaign responds to negative Supreme Court ruling
Secretary Zinke set for another hearing on Interior Department budget
Mark Trahant: Republicans write health reform bill behind closed doors
Jeff Grubbe: Agua Caliente Band focuses on protecting our groundwater
>>> more headlines...

Home | Arts & Entertainment | Business | Canada | Cobell Lawsuit | Education | Environment | Federal Recognition | Federal Register | Forum | Health | Humor | Indian Gaming | Indian Trust | Jack Abramoff Scandal | Jobs & Notices | Law | National | News | Opinion | Politics | Sports | Technology | World

Indianz.Com Terms of Service | Indianz.Com Privacy Policy
About Indianz.Com | Advertise on Indianz.Com

Indianz.Com is a product of Noble Savage Media, LLC and Ho-Chunk, Inc.