State jurisdiction over Indian property at issue
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Tribal leaders are paying close attention to a land use case that is up for review by the Supreme Court this week.

A unanimous 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last September rejected an "unprecedented" attempt by a Washington county to assert jurisdiction over land on the Tulalip Reservation. A three-judge panel said Snohomish County had no justification to impose its regulations on property owned by two tribal members.

"The policy of leaving Indians free from state jurisdiction is deeply rooted in our nation's history," wrote Circuit Judge Stephen S. Trott for the majority.

That history is now placed in jeopardy, observers fear. "The Supreme Court is clearly not the forum we want to be in," Mark Van Norman, a former Department of Justice official who now directs the National Indian Gaming Association, said last week as tribal leaders discussed several sovereignty-related cases.

The dispute involves Kim Gobin and her brother Guy Madison, who own a construction company that has started housing developments on the reservation. The Tulalip Tribes, which have a comprehensive set of land use regulations, approved plans to build 25 homes on 25 acres of land.

But county officials are asserting a right to oversee the development. Under their regulations, the project will be capped at 10 homes. The county wants to limit development -- Snohomish is the fastest growing in the state.

The sticking point is the status of the land. Since it is owned in fee and not held in trust, the county contends it has jurisdiction.

The county, backed by two municipalities, says Supreme Court precedent authorizes the intrusion. In a 1982 case involving land use regulation on the Yakama Reservation in Washington, the court limited the instances in which tribes have control over fee land.

Tribal leaders say that decision limits adequate planning, hinders economic development and creates bureaucratic tangles. The Tulalip Tribes are seen in Indian Country as an economic development pioneer and have welcomed development.

Briefs in opposition to Snohomish County's petition for writ of certiorari, which was filed last December, were logged by Gobin and Madison and the Tulalip Tribes.

The Supreme Court will meet behind closed doors on Friday to consider whether or not to accept the case. A public announcement will come next week.

Relevant Documents:
Docket Sheet: No. 02-1029

Decision Below:
GOBIN v. SNOHOMISH COUNTY, No. 00-36031 (9th Cir. September 18, 2002)

Relevant Links:
Tulalip Tribes -

Related Stories:
Indian fee land free from state control (09/19)
Wash. tribe confronts land-use problems (8/7)