WASHINGTON – Rhode Island officials told the Supreme Court on Monday that permitting the federal government to hold land owned by the Narragansett Indian Tribe would undercut the state’s criminal, safety and zoning laws.
State leaders fear if the 31-acre lot is governed by tribal and federal law, they would lose jurisdiction over it. The tribe could then build a casino on the land or create a tax-free zone that would hurt the state’s revenues. Casinos are banned under state law, but tribes can build and operate them on lands held in federal trust.
Justices stepped into the dispute over the federal government’s ability to take land into trust for American Indian tribes in a closely watched case that could have a dramatic impact on how tribes recognized after the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act are allowed to buy, govern and use land.
Rhode Island argued that federal law prevents the federal government from taking land into trust for American Indian tribes recognized after the 1934 act. The Narragansetts became a federally recognized tribe in 1983.
“What the government is asking for is the exact opposite of what the statute clearly requires,” said former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, arguing for the state.
The Bush administration said the act allows it to take land into trust for tribes regardless of when they were recognized.
The case is Carcieri v. Kempthorne, 07-526.