Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is being called the “most potentially devastating case for Indian tribes in half a century” and oral arguments will be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States beginning December 7.
The back history of the case began with a civil suit filed in tribal court by the family of John Doe, a young boy participating in the Youth Opportunity Program who alleges he was sexually assaulted several times during work hours by the Dollar General’s store manager. Today, legal motions filed by Dollar General have built the case into a jurisdictional dispute that has lawyers, politicians and business leaders at the tribal, local, state and federal levels watching each twist and turn closely.
The Choctaw Indians received favorable rulings from the federal district court for the South District of Mississippi and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, but in June 2014 SCOTUS intervened and agreed to hear the case. As the date for presenting oral arguments approaches, supporters of the Choctaw Indians (Respondents) have filed Amicus briefs with the Supreme Court, the following is a look at the remaining four filed to date:
Brief For Amici Curiae Historians And Legal Scholars Gregory Ablavsky, Bethany R. Berger, Ned Blackhawk, Daniel Carpenter, Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Maggie McKinley, And Joseph William Singer In Support Of Respondents
The Amici represent “historians and legal scholars whose scholarship focuses on Indian law and Indian legal history, including the history of tribal sovereignty and jurisdiction.”
The group has a scholarly interest in the case while providing expertise to the historical scope of tribal jurisdiction over nonmembers. The brief was provided to the Court as “a more complete and accurate picture of the history of tribal jurisdiction over nonmember.”
In their argument, the Amici state “historical record refutes Dollar General’s contention that tribes have been divested of civil jurisdiction over nonmembers. Tribes therefore retain this important attribute of internal sovereignty.”
Read the full brief here.
Brief of Amici Curiae National Congress of American Indians, et al., in support of respondents
Joining the National Congress of American Indians in a brief are United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc., Inter Tribal Association of Arizona, California Association of Tribal Governments, Absentee Shawnee Tribe, Ak-Chin Indian Community, Akiak Native Community, Catawba Indian Nation, Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes, Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Indians, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Coquille Indian Housing Authority, Delaware Nation, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, Klamath Tribes, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Lytton Rancheria, Narragansett Tribe, Native Village of Anvik, Native Village of Emmonak, Native Village of Tetlin, Nez Perce Tribe, Nottawaseppi Huron Band, Ohkay Owingeh, Pala Band of Mission Indians, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, Pueblo of Acoma, Pueblo of Jemez, Pueblo of Laguna, Pueblo of Pojoaque, Pueblo of Tesuque, Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma (the O-Gah-Pah), Redding Rancheria, Round Valley Indian Tribes, Sac and Fox Nation, Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, Salt River Pima- Maricopa Indian Community, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Santee Sioux Nation, Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, Seminole Tribe of Florida, Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes, Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, Spokane Tribe of Indians, Squaxin Island Tribe, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Tulalip Tribes, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, Yurok Tribe
The Amici summary of argument states, “An “express consent” standard for tribal civil juris- diction over nonmembers would depart radically from current standards established by this Court’s jurispru- dence and is, quite simply, unworkable. As this Court has noted previously, “Requiring the consent of the entrant deposits in the hands of the excludable non- Indian the source of the tribe’s power, when the power instead derives from sovereignty itself.” Merrion v. Jicarilla Apache Tribe, 455 U.S. 130, 147 (1982).
“In many cases, an express consent requirement would be absurd and impossible to implement. As a result, it would amount to an effective bar on tribal court juris- diction over nonmembers in some of the very situations where jurisdiction is most critical to a Tribe’s ability to self-govern its own people, territories, and resources.”
Read the full brief here.
Brief Of Amici Curiae National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center And Additional Advocacy Organizations For Survivors Of Domestic Violence And Assault In Support Of Respondents
“The leading signatory, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Inc. (“NIWRC”), is a Native non-profit organization whose mission is to ensure the safety of Native women by protecting and preserving the inherent sovereign authority of American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes to respond to domestic violence and sexual assault. NIWRC’s Board of Directors consists of Native women leaders from Tribes across the United States; collectively, these women have extensive experience in tribal courts, tribal governmental process, and programmatic and educational work to end violence against Native women and children, including domestic violence and sexual assault.”
The NIWRC is the leading voice of this Amicus brief that includes 104 additional organizations that share and support the NIWRC’s commitment to ending domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, and other forms of violence in the U.S.
Given the depth and experience in the subject matter, the NIWRC Amici’s are “uniquely positioned to offer views on the need for accountability in the community where the assault occurs, and accordingly, the necessity of tribal jurisdiction over non-Indians to ensure Native women and children are protected, regardless of their perpetrator’s race, ethnicity, or citizenship.”
The Amici’s state that if jurisdiction of the tribe is eliminated it “would threaten the continued viability of tribal governments.” As a result, the legitimacy of contemporary American democracy would be called into question.
Read the full brief here.
Brief For The Cherokee Nation, The Chickasaw Nation, The Choctaw Nation Of Oklahoma, The Muscogee (Creek) Nation, The Seminole Nation Of Oklahoma, And The Inter-Tribal Council Of The Five Civilized Tribes As Amici Curiae In Support Of Respondents
The Amici’s consist of 5 federally recognized tribes, and the Inter-Tribal Council all five tribes are members of. The group of tribes operate and exercise jurisdiction within the boundaries of Oklahoma. All five tribes have established tribal courts resolve disputes arising on tribal territory involving members and nonmembers through a combination of tribal and federal law. For these tribes, “[t]he question presented in this case concerns the scope of those courts’ jurisdiction.” For this reason, the Amici have an interest in the resolution.
The Amici provide a two-part argument for SCOTUS that highlights cases in which the Court repeatedly recognized that “[t]ribal authority over the activities of non-Indians on reservation lands is an important part of tribal sovereignty.” Through the cases of Strate v. A-1 Contractors, Montana v. United States, and Williams v. Lee “it is clear” that the courts of the Choctaw Indians have “jurisdiction to hear the tort claim brought in this case by a tribal member against a nonmember company for injury inflicted by the company’s employee while working on tribal land.”
The second part of the Amici argument addresses an amicus brief filed by Oklahoma and others states that make “sweeping yet strikingly unsupported attacks on tribal judicial systems.” The Amici for the respondents feel those attacks should be disregarded much like SCOTUS has done with similar attacks. The Amici address the similarities between federal, state and tribal judicial systems to prove the incorrect assertions of the states amicus brief.
Read the full brief here.