City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York
Argued January 11, 2005
Decided March 29, 2005
Full case nameCity of Sherrill, New York v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, et al.
Docket no.03-855
Citations544 U.S. 197 (more)
125 S. Ct. 1478; 161 L. Ed. 2d 386; 2005 U.S. LEXIS 2927 [1]
Case history
PriorOneida Indian Nation v. City of Sherrill, 337 F.3d 139 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2003)
SubsequentRehearing denied, 544 U.S. 1057 (2005), on remand sub nom. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Madison Cnty., 401 F. Supp. 2d 219 (N.D.N.Y. 2005), motion to amend denied, 235 F.R.D. 559 (N.D.N.Y. 2006), aff'd, 605 F.3d 149 (2nd Cir. 2010), cert. granted, 131 S. Ct. 459 (2010), vacated and remanded sub nom. Madison Cnty. v. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y., 131 S. Ct. 704 (2011) (per curiam)
Holding
Reversed and remanded. Held that repurchase of traditional tribal lands did not restore tribal sovereignty to that land.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
MajorityGinsburg, joined by Rehnquist, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer
ConcurrenceSouter
DissentStevens
Laws applied
25 U.S.C. § 465

City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, 544 U.S. 197 (2005), was a US Supreme Court case in which the Court held that repurchase of traditional tribal lands 200 years later did not restore tribal sovereignty to that land. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion. [1]

Background

Historical tribal background

The Oneida Indian Nation (OIN) originally possessed approximately 6,000,000 acres (9,400 sq mi; 24,000 km2) in what is now known as Central New York.[2] The OIN entered three treaties with the United States: Treaty of Fort Stanwix of 1784; The Treaty of Fort Halmar of 1789; and the Treaty of Canandaigua of 1794.[2] These treaties were codified into federal law in the Non-intercourse Act of 1790.[2] The Act also prohibited transacting any sale of Indian Territory without US Congressional consent and ratification.[2]

In 1788, New York State (the state) and the OIN entered into a treaty where the tribe ceded approximately 5,000,000 acres (7,800 sq mi; 20,000 km2), reserving only 300,000 acres (470 sq mi; 1,200 km2) to the OIN.[1][2] The OIN and the state entered into another land transaction where the OIN ceded some of their 300,000-acre reservation to the state.[2] The treaty was known as the Treaty of Fort Schuyler.[1] Over the next 200 years, the state continued to purchase OIN land without seeking US Congressional consent and ratification.[1] By 1920, the OIN reservation was only 32 acres (0.050 sq mi; 0.13 km2).[1] These transactions forced part of the OIN to move to western lands, e.g. the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin; and the Stockbridge-Munsee and the Brothertown Indians, who also moved from land they owned in New York to Wisconsin.[1]

In 1997 and 1998, the OIN purchased land on the open market that had been part of their aboriginal reservation lands. The city of Sherrill sought to impose property taxes on the land.[1] The OIN claimed that because the land fell within its aboriginal lands, the OIN could exert its tribal sovereignty of the same; rendering the property tax exempt.[1] The county of Madison filed a similar suit, Oneida Indian Nation of NY v Madison County.[3]

Prior history

While Sherrill sought relief through eviction proceedings in state court, the OIN sought injunctive relief in federal court.[1] The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York enjoined the city of Sherrill and Madison County from taxing the tribal property.[4][5] Both the city of Sherrill and Madison County appealed the decision to the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. The Circuit Court affirmed, holding that the lands at issue fell within the federal definition of Indian Territory and not subject to state or local taxes.[1][6] The defendants appealed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.[1][7]

Opinion of the Court

Justice Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the Court, reversing and remanding.[1]

The Second Circuit found that the land qualified as Indian Territory, which meant it was exempt from state and local taxation.[1] Justice Ginsburg's decision never overturned that finding. Instead, Justice Ginsburg held that the OIN purchase of the land did not revive its tribal sovereignty over the land because almost 200 years lapsed where the land was not under OIN control.[1] During this 200-year period, the lands came under state, county, and local jurisdiction. This meant the lands were taxable for property taxes.[1] The municipalities, the counties, and the state relied on that land's taxable revenue for 200 years.[1] Justice Ginsburg also noted that during this 200-year span, the OIN did not attempt to regain title (ownership) over the land until recently; and even then only a small portion of its original 6,000,000-acre reservation.[1] Because of this, the Court opined that 200 years was too long to be out of OIN ownership.[1] Therefore, OIN could not reassert its tribal immunity over those lands as an automatic mechanism.[1]

In further support of the decision to overturn, Justice Ginsburg noted that to affirm the lower courts' holdings would cause too much upheaval for the city, the county, and the state who exerted jurisdiction over the land for 200 years without notice that it was not validly done.[1] Affirming the injunctive relief the OIN sought did not consider the loss of tax revenue to the city.[1] Additionally, Justice Ginsburg opined that because the lands were non-contiguous with existing reservation lands, affirming the injunctive relief would create a "checkerboard" of jurisdictional conflict between the OIN, the state, the town of Sherrill, and Madison County.[1]

These justifications provided by Justice Ginsburg were meant to help those not familiar with the case history to rationalize her decision. The bedrock precedent relied on is known as the Doctrine of Discovery and was cited in the opinion's first footnote as follows:

"Under the “doctrine of discovery,” County of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y., 470 U. S. 226, 234 (1985) (Oneida II), “fee title to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign—first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States,” Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y. v. County of Oneida, 414 U. S. 661, 667 (1974) (Oneida I)."[1]

This set of preceding court cases made clear from the outset that immediately upon the first arrival of Christian sovereigns (including their representatives) of a European nation to lands either uninhabited or inhabited by non-Christians who were not of European descent ultimate sovereignty of the land, whose boundaries were usually understood as the entire watershed or sometimes a given radius or other specified boundary, was vested in the discovering power. Native nations retained limited rights, such as those to occupy and use the land they were currently recognized (by the discovering power) to be living within.[8] Regardless, from this moment onward native nations could no longer legally (under international law and the laws of the discovering power) expand their sovereignty or jurisdictions beyond their recognized boundaries, even if they purchased them in the same way that the discovering power was purchasing lands from native nations. Such expansions would have to be done through the discovering power. Today in the United States the federal government (the full legal owner) holds native lands 'in trust' for the native nations (the beneficial owner). Therefore, it was unlawful for OIN to purchase lands and claim sovereignty over them, just as it would be unlawful for a private citizen to purchase land within the United States and claim sovereignty over it. The tribe would be able to have the federal government purchase these lands and manage them in trust for the tribe as part of their reservation, but that power ultimately lies in with the federal government under the Doctrine of Discovery.

Justice Ginsburg understood and agreed with upholding the Doctrine of Discovery and therefore concluded that the proper way for the Oneida Nation to reassert its immunity over those re-acquired lands was to place the land in US trust under the Department of the Interior, as authorized by the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934.[1] Justice Ginsburg reasoned that the mechanisms behind the IRA would address issues of jurisdiction, tax revenue loss, and other pertinent issues.[1] Shortly after the Court published this decision, in April 2005, the OIN applied to the US Interior Department to place 13,000 acres (20 sq mi; 53 km2) into trust.

Concurring opinion

Justice Souter issued a concurring opinion stating that the amount of time involved barred the tribe from restoring sovereignty to the land in question.[1]

Dissent

Justice Stevens dissented, noting that the majority opinion did not overrule the Second Circuit's determination that the subject land was Indian Territory.[1] Justice Stevens opined that because the land is within the boundaries of its historical reservation, it was "Indian Country."[1] Therefore, the city had no jurisdiction to tax that property.[1]

Subsequent history

Sherrill held only that the local governments could tax OIN-owned property that was part of the original reservation but reacquired on the open market, not that the local governments could collect. In 2010, in Oneida Indian Nation of New York v Madison County, NY, the Second Circuit held that tribal sovereign immunity barred a tax foreclosure suit against the tribe for unpaid taxes.[9] As urged by concurring judges José A. Cabranes and Peter W. Hall, the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari.[10] Following a tribal declaration and ordinance waiving sovereign immunity, the Court vacated and remanded.[11]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, 544 U.S. 197 (2005)
  2. ^ a b c d e f Oneida Indian Nation v County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661 (1974)
  3. ^ 401 F. Supp. 2d 219 [NDNY 2005]
  4. ^ Oneida Indian Nation, et al. v. City of Sherrill, et al., 145 F.Supp.2d 226 (N.D.N.Y. 2001).
  5. ^ Oneida Indian Nation v. Madison County, 145 F.Supp.2d 268 (N.D.N.Y. 2001).
  6. ^ Oneida Indian Nation, et al. v. City of Sherrill, et al., 337 F.3d 139 (2d Cir. N.Y. 2003).
  7. ^ Oneida Indian Nation, et al. v. City of Sherrill, et al.542 U.S. __ (2004)
  8. ^ Miller, R. J. (2006). Native America, discovered and conquered: Thomas Jefferson, Lewis & Clark, and manifest destiny. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  9. ^ 605 F.3d 149.
  10. ^ Madison County v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, 131 S. Ct. 459 (2010).
  11. ^ Madison County v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York, 131 S. Ct. 704 (mem).

Further reading

United States Article III case law