High Court: Indian Tribes Can't Sue Localities under Federal Civil Rights Law

By Otero, Juan | Nation's Cities Weekly, June 2, 2003 | Go to article overview

High Court: Indian Tribes Can't Sue Localities under Federal Civil Rights Law


Otero, Juan, Nation's Cities Weekly


The Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that an Indian tribe cannot sue a local government under the federal civil rights law.

State and local governments were carefully watching this tribal sovereignty case given its implications for local law enforcement. The basic question of the case was whether local law enforcement can use search warrants on tribal lands while investigating incidents that occur off the reservation.

If the Supreme Court had ruled that states and local governments did not have the ability to issue search warrants, cities would have faced the dilemma of dealing with the growing number of the 560 federally recognized tribes nationwide that have built casinos.

The case arose when the Inyo County, Calif., district attorney's office asked the tribe in March 1999 for the employment records of three tribe-owned casino employees under investigation for welfare fraud.

There were apparent discrepancies between the income the employees received from the casino and their welfare application forms, according to court records.

The tribe refused to release the records, citing a privacy policy. The district attorney's office then obtained a search warrant, and deputies searched the casino and seized the records over tribal objections.

In July 2000, the district attorney's office asked the tribe for the records of six more casino employees. This time the tribe offered to compromise, but the district attorney's office refused. …

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