Court rules for California tribe in suit over land access

AP News
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Posted: Mar 14, 2017 4:53 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Members of a Native American tribe in California who were temporarily banned from tribal land — one for 10 years — cannot challenge that decision in U.S. court, a divided federal appeals court panel ruled Tuesday.

The federal Indian Civil Rights Act does not give U.S. courts the authority to review such temporary bans, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 2-1 ruling.

Writing for the majority, Judge M. Margaret McKeown said the court's decision "bolsters tribes' sovereign authority to determine the makeup of their communities and best preserves the rule that federal courts should not entangle themselves in such disputes."

Andrew Stroud, an attorney for four members of the United Auburn Indian Community who filed the case, said he's heartbroken for his clients.

"The majority reinterpreted the civil rights statute in a manner not argued by either side and designed to get the result that they desired rather than the result that was just," he said.

United Auburn owns the Thunder Valley Casino Resort outside Sacramento. In 2011, the tribe banned Stroud's clients from the casino and other tribal facilities for fixed periods of time after they publicly accused the tribal council of financial mismanagement and said tribal elections were rigged.

The Indian Civil Rights Act gives Native Americans the right to challenge detentions by a tribe in federal court. The United Auburn members argued that their temporary exclusion from tribal facilities amounted to detention under the act — an argument the 9th Circuit rejected.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Kim Wardlaw said the 10-year banishment order against one of the members — Jessica Tavares — "severely restrains her liberty and constitutes 'detention' under the Indian Civil Rights Act."

"Tavares presents us with precisely the kind of case over which Congress intended to establish federal jurisdiction," she wrote.

The tribe also withheld casino profits and other benefits from the members. The 9th Circuit said the loss of economic benefits does not trigger the federal court provision in the Indian Civil Rights Act.

The case did not directly raise another contentious issue that tribal members have faced: disenrollment. Some casino-owning tribes have expelled members in what critics say is an effort to concentrate casino profits.

The 9th Circuit has previously ruled that federal courts cannot get involved in tribal membership disputes.