WA indigenous sovereignty in question after SCOTUS ruling on state-tribal domain

Jul 5, 2022, 10:34 AM
Lummi Nation Restoration Specialist Chris Phair (blue shirt), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Resource Conservationist Jarad Hamman (tan shirt) and NRCS Tribal Liaison Robin Slate (gray shirt) (USDA via Flickr Creative Commons)
(USDA via Flickr Creative Commons)

In a ruling that could have cascading effects on the indigenous tribes of Washington state, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the federal government and the states have select, concurrent jurisdiction over Indian country, with dissenters arguing that hundreds of years of legal precedent governing the rule of law on tribal lands have been upended.

In 2015, Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta was charged by the State of Oklahoma with child neglect of his Cherokee Indian step-daughter while living in Tulsa. Following a change in federal classification of eastern Oklahoma’s Creek Nation reservation, Castro-Huerta appealed, arguing that only the federal government had the authority to prosecute his case.

In a 5-4 ruling on Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, majority opinion author Justice Brett Kavanaugh held that a state can prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians on reservations, writing “as a matter of state sovereignty, a State has jurisdiction over all of its territory, including Indian country.”

Authoring the minority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, “Native American Tribes retain their sovereignty unless and until Congress ordains otherwise, referencing legal precedent in which the Supreme Court rejected the state of Georgia and former President Andrew Jackson’s attempt to “flout” state authority over tribal lands as “a show of force.”

“Where this Court once stood firm, today it wilts. After the Cherokee’s exile to what became Oklahoma, the federal government promised the Tribe that it would remain forever free from interference from state authorities. Only the Tribe or the federal government could punish crimes by or against tribal members on tribal lands … Now, the State seeks to claim for itself [that] power.”

SCOTUS limits EPA’s ability to regulate emissions in ‘stunning reversal of environmental laws’

As for how the ruling will affect Washington state’s tribes, the ruling is colored by Public Law 280 which grants the state select authority to prosecute crimes committed on tribal land provided the tribe in question has granted consent. Under Public Law 280, the state’s authority was explicitly delineated, whereas now the state and the federal government have concurrent jurisdiction over tribal land.

The local impact of Castro-Huerta will be contingent on how the law is implemented in Washington state.

“When we all went to bed on Tuesday, the law was one thing. And when we woke up on Wednesday, it was new, and it’s changed the status quo that has been in place in Indian country for hundreds of years,” Anthony Broadman, a partner with Indigenous rights law firm Galanda Broadman, told MyNorthwest.

“Nationwide, this is a significant change for tribal sovereignty, because we’ve essentially invited states into another area of criminal jurisdiction.”

“Federal Indian law looks at sovereignty as the idea that tribal people can make their own laws and be ruled by their own laws. This decision allows for state encroachment in an area that previously the federal government had filled. Whenever you invite states into areas that they had not previously occupied, it diminishes tribal sovereignty.”

Broadman claims that no current cases in Washington will be immediately impacted by the ruling because the Supreme Court’s decision represents such an abrupt heel-turn in indigenous law.

“There isn’t a case out there where a state had claimed concurrent jurisdiction … because until Wednesday, they simply didn’t have concurrent jurisdiction,” Broadman continued.

“The way that this case will be tested in Washington would be for … the state to assert concurrent jurisdiction with the federal government over a particular crime. And if it moves forward with that prosecution, that would be the implementation of Castro … But the reason why I don’t think we’re there yet is because of Wednesday’s large change.”

Local News

(KIRO 7)...
Nicole Jennings

Residents celebrate West Seattle Bridge reopening, but still much to do

There has been a lot of criticism over the two-and-a-half years the bridge has been closed, mainly over how long it has taken.
20 hours ago
(KIRO 7)...
KIRO Newsradio Newsdesk

KIRO Newsradio Headlines: 13 new wildfires emerged after lightning storm

The KIRO Newsradio newsdesk brings you its top stories on the afternoon of Aug. 12.
20 hours ago
Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower to meet with New York Attorney General Letiti...
Associated Press

FBI seized top secret documents in Trump estate search

“Not only will I not oppose the release of documents," Trump said. "I am going a step further by ENCOURAGING the immediate release of those documents.”
20 hours ago
whatcom ferry chief...
Micki Gamez

Whatcom County’s Lummi Island is getting a new ferry

The Department of Transportation awarded a $25 million grant to replace the 60-year-old Whatcom Chief ferry with a new and improved electric-hybrid ferry.
20 hours ago
Photo from KIRO 7...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Bonney Lake Sumner Little League team advances to World Series on controversial play

In extra innings, the Bonney Lake Sumner Little League team advanced to the Little League World Series on Thursday, by a score of 3-2.
20 hours ago
chambers charged retail theft...
Logan Gilbert

‘Tuba Man’ killer arrested naked in dumpster, now charged as part of retail theft ring

Billy Chambers, who infamously was charged with manslaughter in the death of the street musician known as "Tuba man," is a suspect in the crime ring.
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
WA indigenous sovereignty in question after SCOTUS ruling on state-tribal domain