Supreme Court turns down Pequot land case
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MAY 1, 2001

In a decision welcomed by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to review the state of Connecticut's long running lawsuit over the addition of 165 acres of land to the tribe's reservation.

"This action confirms that the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation has the same right as virtually every other tribe in the United States to petition the federal government to take land into trust," said the tribe in a statement.

But Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the battle was far from over. Even as the tribe and three towns bordering the reservation negotiate a settlement to their land disputes, Blumenthal vowed to continue fighting the case in court.

"Today's denial of Supreme Court review only ends round one," said Blumenthal in a statement. "Our fight against the US government now returns to the federal trial court, where we will pursue clear, compelling claims that the annexation plan is illegal."

Under the guises of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA), the tribe in 1993 asked the Department of Interior to take 245 acres of land into trust. The tribe subsequently removed 80 acres from its application and former Secretary Bruce Babbitt agreed to take the remaining acreage into trust in May 1996.

The removal later proved to be a crucial distinction for the tribe and the Interior. Overturning a district court decision, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals last September said nothing prevented the federal government from taking land into trust for the tribe, so long as the parcels were purchased without the help of a $900,000 settlement fund the tribe received in 1983.

The 80 acres had in fact been purchased with settlement funds established by the Mashantucket Pequot Settlement Act. In addition to the settling the tribe's land claims, the act extended federal recognition to the tribe.

The act formed the basis of the state's appeal to the 2nd Circuit. The state argued the act prevents any trust land acquisitions -- regardless of how land was purchased -- but the 2nd Circuit disagreed.

At the same time, the 2nd Circuit returned the case to the district court level, where Blumenthal said he will fight it on two fronts. He plans on arguing that the IRA, aimed at reversing the assimilationist policies of the late 1800s, doesn't apply because the Mashantucket Tribe was only state recognized when it was passed in 1934.

Nonetheless, Blumenthal also said he will challenge the land-into-trust approval on the basis it was an abuse of government discretion. The IRA grants the Secretary of Interior discretion to take any parcels of land into trust for any federally recognized tribe.

The 2nd Circuit last fall expressed no view on this position, leaving it open for future consideration.

Settlement talks between the tribe and the towns of Ledyard, North Stonington, and Preston are ongoing. The tribe wants the government to take at least 440 acres of land into trust and has offered monetary payments to the towns in lieu of taxes.

Through mediator Congressman Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), the towns have so far expressed disapproval of the proposal. All have questioned the tribe's need for additional land in light of the tribe's financial success.

Secretary Gale Norton has delayed by at least four months new regulations which revise the government's land policies by making it harder to justify annexations not contiguous to an existing reservation. The Pequot Tribe's application was considered under the old set of regulations.

Get the Case:
Connecticut v. Babbitt No. 99-6042. (2nd Circuit Court of Appeals September 25, 2000)

Only on Indianz.Com:
The Supreme Court and Indian Law: 2000-2001 (3/6)

Relevant Links:
Attorney General, Connecticut -
Rep. Rob Simmons -

Related Stories:
Towns question need for land (4/18)
Norton delays land-into-trust regulations (4/16)
DOJ wants rejection of Pequot case (4/6)
State joins Pequot appeal (11/29)
Towns to appeal Pequot ruling (11/07)
Does a Pequot empire await? (9/27)
Court rules against anti-Pequot towns (9/26)