Carcieri v. Salazar

Carcieri v. Salazar

Carcieri v. Salazar
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued November 3, 2008
Decided February 24, 2009
Full case name Donald L. Carcieri, Governor of Rhode Island v. Ken L. Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, et al.
Docket nos. 07-526
Citations 555 U.S. 379 (more)
129 S. Ct. 1058; 172 L. Ed. 2d 791
Prior history Carcieri v. Norton, 290 F.Supp.2d 167 (D.R.I. 2003); Carcieri v. Norton, 423 F.3d 45 (1st Cir. R.I. 2005); Carcieri v. Kempthorne, 497 F.3d 15 (1st Cir. 2007)
Reversed and remanded. Held that the term "now under Federal jurisdiction" referred only to tribes that were federal recognized when the Indian Reorganization Act became law and the federal government could not take land into trust from tribes that were recognized after 1934.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Thomas, joined by Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, Breyer, and Alito
Concurrence Breyer
Concur/dissent Souter, joined by Ginsburg
Dissent Stevens
Laws applied
25 U.S.C. §§ 465, 479

Carcieri v. Salazar, 555


Historical tribal relationship

The Narragansett tribe was first contacted by Europeans in 1524 at Narrangansett Bay, Rhode Island. Following King Philip's War,[3] the tribe absorbed several smaller tribes, such as the Niantic and in 1709 came under the guardianship of Rhode Island.[3] From 1880 to 1884, Rhode Island attempted to dissolve the tribe, selling off all but 2 acres (8,100 m2) of tribal land.[3] The tribe resisted, requesting repeatedly to be dealt with as a tribe, culminating in lawsuits in January, 1975.[4][5] In the resulting settlement, Rhode Island placed 1,800 acres (7.3 km2) of land into trust for the tribe, with the condition that with the exception of hunting and fishing regulations, state law would apply on the land.[6][7]

Following this, the tribe requested federal recognition in 1979, which was granted in 1983.[3] The tribe and the state disagree with a number of items, including the collection of taxes on cigarettes sold at a reservation smoke shop and the proposed building of a casino on reservation land. In 1991, the tribe purchased 31 acres (130,000 m2) to be used for housing for elderly tribal members, and petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to take the land into trust under the Indian Reorganization Act, thus removing it from state jurisdiction.

Action by the Department of the Interior and U.S. District Court

In March 1998, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) notified Rhode Island of its intent to take the 31-acre (130,000 m2) parcel into Federal Trust status. The state appealed this decision to the Interior Board of Indian Appeals, which ruled in favor of the tribe and the BIA.[8] The state then filed suit in U.S. District Court. The District Court ruled in favor of the BIA and the tribe.[9]

U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

Rhode Island then appealed the District Court decision to the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. A three judge panel heard the appeal and affirmed the summary judgment of the District Court.[10] The state then requested a rehearing en banc by the full court, which was granted. On rehearing, the full court affirmed the decision of the District Court.[11]

Opinion of the Court

Reversed and remanded. Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the opinion of the court.[2]

Thomas determined that the authority of the BIA to take Indian land into a trust status hinged on the phrase "now under Federal jurisdiction" in 25 U.S.C. § 479. Using rules of statutory construction, he determined that this phrase limited the BIA to only take Indian Land into trust if the tribe was federally recognized in 1934 at the time of the laws enactment. This holding excluded the Narrangansett tribe from turning land over to the BIA as they were not federally recognized until 1983.[2]


Justice Stephen Breyer issued a concurring opinion, joined by Justice David Souter.[2]

Breyer stated that he believed that the majority opinion was correct, but due to the legislative history of the bill, not based on statutory construction. He allowed that even if a tribe was not formally recognized in 1934, they could still be under federal jurisdiction due to an earlier treaty or agreement.[2]

Concurrence in part and dissenting in part

Justice Souter issued an opinion that concurred in part and dissented in part, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.[2]

Souter stated that the notion of under federal jurisdiction and being federally recognized were not one and the same, even if that is how the BIA and the tribe both understood it. He would have remanded for a determination of the jurisdictional issue.[2]


Justice John P. Stevens dissented.[2]

Stevens believed that "now" meant at the time the land was turned over to the BIA, and would have affirmed the lower court's decision.[2]

Subsequent developments

The decision caused an immediate reaction in both the Native American and the legal community. The If enacted into law, the changes will allow lands to be taken into trust by the BIA after 1934.

There is strong opposition, however, to any legislative "fix" from elected officials in states with existing Indian gaming operations and tribes recognized prior to 1934.[15] Additionally, 17 state attorney's general have written a legal opinion opposing such legislation.[16]

See also

  • Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak (2012)


External links

  • "Carcieri v. Salazar, #07-526, 555 U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1058, 172 L.Ed. 791 (2009)