A U.S. Supreme Court Landmark Case Coming in Carpenter V. Murphy or More Time for Legal Gymnastics?

By: Cole Bauman | Summer Intern | cole.bauman@procopio.com

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The U.S. Supreme Court was expected to publish its decision in Carpenter v. Murphy yesterday, but instead scheduled the case for reargument during the Court’s next term. As we mentioned in our post on the Court’s May decision of Herrera v. Wyoming, the Court in Carpenter must decide whether half of Oklahoma has remained an Indian reservation since 1866. More specifically, the question presented in Carpenter is whether the 1866 territorial boundaries of the Creek Nation within the former Indian Territory of eastern Oklahoma constitute an “Indian reservation” under 18 U.S.C. § 1151(a)? Apparently, the Supreme Court needs more time to determine the answer.

Although a rarity for the Court, rearguments have been ordered in the past. Carpenter joins such landmark cases as Brown v. Board of Education (argued in 1952, reargued in 1953), Roe v. Wade (argued in 1971, reargued in 1972), and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (argued twice in 2009), among others. Each of these cases caused quite a stir, and in Carpenter, there is a lot at stake.

In 1866, Congress established reservations for the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole Nations. These reservations predate Oklahoma’s statehood, which occurred in 1907. In August of 2017, the 10th Circuit held the state of Oklahoma lacks jurisdiction to prosecute Mr. Patrick Dwayne Murphy, a member of the Creek Nation who was convicted of murder in Oklahoma state court, because it found Congress never disestablished the 1866 boundaries of the Creek Nation. When major crimes such as murder are alleged to have occurred within the boundaries of an Indian reservation, the federal government, not the state, has jurisdiction under the Major Crimes Act.

Following its decision, the 10th Circuit denied an en banc rehearing of Carpenter, stating an en banc rehearing is inappropriate when “as here, a panel opinion faithfully applies Supreme Court precedent.” However, Supreme Court review of the decision is complicated due to Justice Gorsuch’s recusal from the case. Gorsuch’s absence has caused an apparent stalemate in the Court which could result in a 4-4 decision, ultimately affirming the 10th Circuit’s holding that the Creek Reservation was never disestablished.  It could be that the conservative court is trying to avoid such a deadlock non-decision.

From the outside looking in, a concern of a status quo result upholding the 10th Circuit appears to be the crux of the delay in deciding Carpenter. In Carpenter, Supreme Court precedent dictates the application of the Solem v. Bartlett reservation diminishment test.  In Solem v. Bartlett, the Supreme Court applied a three-part framework for assessing whether a reservation has been diminished. Under the test, a court must first examine the text of a statute that is believed to disestablish or diminish the reservation. Second, the court must consider the events surrounding the passage of the statute. Third, the court must consider, to a lesser extent, the events that occurred after the passage of the statute. The 10th Circuit’s application of this test found Congress had not disestablished the Creek Reservation.

The Supreme Court would require some very creative legal gymnastics to avoid agreeing with the 10th Circuit’s application of the Solem v. Bartlett test. Certainly, the refusal to issue an opinion this term is telling. The Court previewed its quandary on December 4th, 2018, one week following the oral arguments for Carpenter, when the Supreme Court requested additional briefing on the matter, asking for answers to two questions: (1) whether any statute grants Oklahoma jurisdiction over crimes committed by Indians, irrespective of the reservation status of the land, and (2) whether land can be part of an Indian reservation but not considered Indian country under 18 U.S.C. § 1151(a). The request indicates the Supreme Court was searching for a way to resolve the case in favor of Carpenter without overturning its own precedent in deciding how and when reservation diminishment occurs. The order for reargument indicates such a solution did not materialize.

The Supreme Court is right to carefully consider the ramifications of upholding the 10th Circuit’s decision, but setting the Solem v. Barlett test aside or finding a loophole to avoid addressing the question of diminishment would be a crushing blow to Native American treaty rights and tribal sovereignty. It would demonstrate that the Supreme Court is willing to set aside the foundations of federal Indian law and usurp the role of Congress to avoid what it sees as inconvenient jurisdictional results. Perhaps more unsettling, though, it would display a prejudicial belief by the justices that Indian nations are unfit to possess such jurisdiction.

For updates on Carpenter v. Murphy when the Supreme Court reconvenes next term, subscribe to Bloggingcircle.

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Cole Bauman is a Procopio Summer Intern and a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.  He recently completed his second year at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, where he served on the Executive Board of the ASU Moot Court.

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Ted Griswold is head of Procopio’s Native American Law Practice Group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle.  Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.

 

Twice is a Coincidence, Three Times is a Pattern

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By: Cole A. Bauman | Intern| cole.bauman@procopio.com

In its May 20th, 2019 decision, Herrera v. Wyoming, the U.S. Supreme Court expressly stated that treaty rights are not impliedly extinguished at statehood, a holding that had been strongly implied by the Court in its 1999 decision, Minnesota v. Mille Lacs Band of Chippewa Indians, but not confirmed until now. The court also found that the creation of the Bighorn National Forest did not void Herrera’s hunting rights by rendering the lands of the national forest “occupied.” Experts in the field were quick to congratulate the Court for its decision. Professor Robert Miller, a faculty member at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and expert on the subject of Native American treaties, has since stated the decision is “a great victory for Indian country.”*

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded the Wyoming Fourth Judicial District Court’s ruling against Mr. Clayvin Herrera, a Crow Tribe of Indians member who was prevented from asserting his treaty right “to hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United States” as a defense in Wyoming trial court, resulting in convictions for taking elk off-season or without a state hunting license and for being an accessory to the same crime.

The Court split its votes in the same manner it did on March 19th when it published Washington State Dep’t of Licensing v. Cougar Den, a decision that affirmed the treaty right of the members of the Yakama Nation of Indians to travel upon the public highways of Washington without being subjected to the state’s fuel tax. In Cougar Den, and now in Herrera, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch was the lone conservative on the bench to land on the pro-tribal side of the decision. The result reached in Herrera repeats the sentiment in Justice Gorsuch’s concurring opinion in Cougar Den:

Really, this case just tells an old and familiar story. The State of Washington includes millions of acres that the Yakamas ceded to the United States under significant pressure. In return, the government supplied a handful of modest promises. The State is now dissatisfied with the consequences of one of those promises. It is a new day, and now it wants more. But today and to its credit, the Court holds the parties to the terms of their deal. It is the least we can do.

Washington State Dep’t of Licensing v. Cougar Den, Inc., 139 S. Ct. 1000, 1021 (2019).

In the procedural lead-up to the Supreme Court’s decision in Herrera, an old and familiar story became that much older and that much more familiar. Like the Yakamas, the Crow Nation agreed to a bundle of promises from the United States government. One of these promises was the continued right to take game on unoccupied lands, so long as game may be found thereon. As consideration for these promises, the Crow People agreed to cede most of their land to the government. The nation formally granted over 30 million acres of land to the United States in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, a document ratified by the Senate in 1869.

Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution dictates that treaties are the supreme law of the land. Yet, Wyoming’s trial court convicted Herrera of two crimes for acting pursuant to the rights found in the 1868 Treaty. Wyoming’s Fourth Judicial District Court then upheld Herrera’s conviction. The Wyoming Supreme Court, the final arbiter of cases that arise under Wyoming law, refused to hear the case. To take again from Justice Gorsuch’s concurrence in Cougar Den, “none of this can come as much of a surprise.” However, as stated in United States v. Kagama, Indian nations “owe no allegiance to the States, and receive from them no protection.” 118 U.S. 375, 384 (1886). In Herrera, the Supreme Court not only applied sound principles of treaty interpretation, but it also highlighted once again the tendency of state interests to encroach upon the rights of tribal nations and their members.

With the Court’s decision in Herrera finalized, tribal advocates must look forward to the results of Carpenter v. Murphy, the third decision of the Court’s term involving Native American treaties. Due to publish its decision next month, the Court in Carpenter should answer whether half of Oklahoma has remained an Indian reservation. More specifically, the question presented is whether the 1866 territorial boundaries of the Creek Nation within the former Indian Territory of eastern Oklahoma constitute an “Indian reservation” under 18 U.S.C. § 1151(a)?

The phrase “once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is a pattern” doesn’t originate from the field of Native American law, but it applies to the Supreme Court’s Native American law jurisprudence this term. Tribal members and advocates should celebrate Herrera for what it is, a victory for Indian country. The results of Carpenter v. Murphy, though, will decide whether the Court will begin a pattern of upholding tribal sovereignty and enforcing the treaties the United States is party to.

*Massoud Hayoun, “The Supreme Court Upheld Treaty Rights for the Crow Nation,” PS Mag (May 22, 2019), https://psmag.com/social-justice/the-supreme-court-upheld-treaty-rights-for-the-crow-nation.

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Cole Bauman is a Summer Intern with Procopio’s Native American Law practice group and a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. A rising 3L at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Cole serves as an Executive Editor for the Jurimetrics Journal of Law, Science, and Technology. Prior to attending law school, Cole received a degree in economics from the University of Notre Dame. He is particularly interested in the pursuit of economic development in Indian country.

THE SUPREME COURT’S NON-DECISIONS ARE SUPPORTING TRIBAL WATER AND TREATY RIGHTS

THE SUPREME COURT_S NON-DECISIONS ARE SUPPORTING TRIBAL WATER AND TREATY RIGHTS

By:  Aaron Fournier | Intern | aaron.fournier@procopio.com
Summer Carmack | Intern | summer.carmack@procopio.com
Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

The Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of Tribes and their treaty and water rights in two separate and significant cases last year and, as expected, both cases were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Last November we posted (see post here) about one of these cases, Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Coachella Valley Water District (849 F.3d 1262 (2017)), in which the Court upheld the Ninth Circuit’s decision by denying certiorari. Earlier this month (on June 11, 2018) the Court affirmed the other Ninth Circuit decision, United States v. Washington (9th Cir. 2017) 853 F.3d 946, with a split 4-4 opinion (see the Court’s opinion here). Both decisions affirm water and treaty rights of tribes and establish tribes as key decision makers in the water use context.

In Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Coachella Valley Water District the Ninth Circuit (and later the Supreme Court, which concurred by declining to hear the case) held that the federal “reserved rights” doctrine for water, as established in Winters v. United States, 207 U.S. 564 (1908), applies to both surface water and groundwater. Agua Caliente also affirms that (1) the application of the “’primary-secondary use’ distinction” from United States v. New Mexico, 438 U.S. 696 (1978) is appropriate when determining “how much water is reserved” and does not infer a deferral to state water law on the part of Congress (849 F.3d 1262, 1268-70 (emphasis in original)); (2) because the Tribe’s water rights are federally-reserved, they cannot be lost through non-use; and (3) the Tribe has reserved water rights if the “water was envisioned as necessary for the reservation’s purpose at the time the reservation was created.” (Id. at 1272). Therefore, because the Agua Caliente reservation was established for “the permanent use and occupancy of the Mission Indians[,]” that purpose could only be fulfilled if the rights to the groundwater underlying the reservation were granted appurtenant to the reservation land. Id. at 1265 (quoting Exec. Order of May 15, 1876).

In United States v. Washington, the Ninth Circuit held that a treaty guaranteeing tribes the continued right to gather fish from rivers was violated by the state’s installation and lack of maintenance of culverts along these rivers. The Tribe argued that the culverts were decreasing the amount of fish in the rivers by impeding the movement of the fish, thereby depriving them of their treaty rights, while the state argued that the treaty did not guarantee there would be fish in the river. The Ninth Circuit held that the Tribe’s belief that an adequate amount of fish would be available to them in the rivers, though not explicit in the treaty, was reasonable and the state violated the treaty by building culverts that prevented the fish from freely moving up and down the river. The Supreme Court let this decision stand through affirmation by an equally divided court.

Both decisions increase the likelihood of tribes being invited to the table when project and land use decisions affecting water are made by state, county, and city governments. The two cases help establish tribes as essential partners for local governments by affirming that tribes have a vested interest in making land use decisions. The Court has implicitly supported tribal water and treaty rights two times this term. This could be the beginning of a new era of federal support for tribal treaty rights, which is something others have noticed (see Culverts Win May Indicate A New Era For Tribal Treaty Rights here). Regardless, these decisions provide notice to state and local governments that tribes should be included in discussions regarding decisions affecting water use both above and below the ground. It will be interesting to follow the next two phases of litigation in the series of three for Agua Caliente, whether the tribe (1) owns the beneficial interest in the groundwater aquifer beneath its reservation; (2) is entitled to water of a certain quality, in addition to quantity; and (3) the quantity of groundwater rights the Tribe is entitled to put to use.

Aaron Fournier is a member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, and a rising 3L at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law. He is a former Udall Foundation Intern, working in the office of the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs. Aaron is a recipient of the 2018 Procopio Native American Law Student Internship.

Summer Carmack is a rising 3L at University of Montana’s Alexander Blewett III  School of Law, where she is an American Indian Law Certificate student focusing her studies in tribal economic development, sovereignty and natural resources.  She is on staff of the Public Land and Resources Law Review.  Summer is a recipient of the 2018 Procopio Native American Law Student Internship.

Ted GriswoldTed is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle.  Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.

Another Win-Lose Situation: Reactions to SCOTUS decision in U.S. v. Bryant

By: Heather Torres | Intern | heather.torres@procopio.com

On June 13, 2016 in its decision on U.S. v. Bryant, the Supreme Court held that uncounseled tribal court convictions that are compliant with the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA), are predicate offenses under the Indian Country domestic assault habitual offender statute. 18 U.S.C. §117(a). Section 117(a) was enacted in response to the deplorably high rates of domestic violence against Native American women. It provides that any person who commits domestic assault in Indian Country and has two prior domestic violence convictions in federal, state, or tribal court can be subject to federal fines, prison, or both.

Defendant, Michael Bryant, a Northern Cheyenne tribal member, argued that federal prosecution under 117(a) using prior uncounseled tribal court convictions carrying prison sentences as predicate offenses flied in the face of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. However, the defendant did not challenge the reliability of the tribal court convictions themselves, conceding that the uncounseled charges could be used if the tribal courts imposed a fine instead of a prison sentence. Essentially, Bryant argued that if he was to be prosecuted for a federal crime, then constitutional protections should apply, and the uncounseled tribal court convictions cannot be used against him.

The Supreme Court disagreed. In the Supreme Court’s view, Bryant was being punished for recently committed assaults, and not his previous crimes. Thus, Bryant was represented by a lawyer in this case in comport with the Sixth Amendment. The uncounseled tribal convictions were valid (i.e., ICRA compliant) and thus were able to serve as predicate offenses for 117(a) prosecution.

So, why is this a win-lose situation?

WIN: Bryant seems to be the target of 117(a), a habitual domestic assault offender. Bryant has over 100 convictions in tribal court, with at least 5 for domestic abuse. The affirmation of his previous tribal court domestic assault convictions serves 117(a)’s intent to protect Native American women. Native women are raped or sexually assaulted at 2.5 times of U.S. women in general and as many as 46% experience physical violence by an intimate partner.

LOSE: Who is most likely to appear uncounseled in tribal courts? Indians. This is due to limited tribal criminal jurisdiction and lack of funding for and/or prioritization by Tribal Nations to provide defense counsel. At the end of the day, the Supreme Court’s decision can be viewed as one that forfeits constitutional protections for Native American defendants.

Heather Torres (San Ildefonso Pueblo, Navajo) is a rising 3L enrolled in the Critical Race Studies specialization at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. Heather is an Executive Editor for the Indigenous Peoples’ Journal of Law, Culture & Resistance at UCLA. She is a recipient of the 2016 Procopio Native American Internship.

Ted GriswoldTed is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.