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2/22 Conference Update: Carcieri v. Kempthorne February 22, 2008

Posted by rezjudicata in 1st Circuit, SCOTUS.

Carcieri v. Kempthorne

Basic Issues & Background

The origins of this case lie in a complex tangle of historical, political, and legal maneuvers. Its resolution, however, rests on two relatively narrow legal issues.

The first concerns the power of the Secretary to take land into trust for Indian tribes recognized after the effective date of the Indian Reorganization Act. The IRA authorized the Secretary to make trust aquisitions for the benefit of Indians. The IRA also defines and “Indian” as members of “any recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction” (emphasis added). Rhode Island argued that this was a temporal limitation on the Secretary’s powers–authority extended only to tribes recognized prior to 1934. The First Circuit, en banc, however, found this language ambiguous. The Court applied Chevron deferrence to the Secretary’s interpretation that the provision only required that federal recognition extended to the tribe at the time of the trust aquisition.

Second is the effect of the Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act. The State argued that the Settlement Act stripped the Secretary of trust authority on Rhode Island lands. According to the Court, however, nothing in the Act explicitly or implicitly accomplished this task. The Act merely extinguished aboriginal title within the State and precluded certain traditional property claims in the future. Moreover, the Act addressed the exercise of the Tribe’s rights, but said nothing about the Secretary’s powers.


Despite the complex history and potential implications of this case, the narrow legal issues militate against a grant of certiorari. Though this case may present a unique take on the IRA (by analyzing the Secretary’s interpretation of the Act under Chevron), the Circuits have uniformly upheld the constitutionality of the Secretary’s powers under the Act. The remaining issue concerns a settlement act that covers only the State of Rhode Island. The Supreme Court this term has already refused to consider another case that solely considered the interpretation of a settlement act. Without a circuit split or another issue of broad national import, certiorari is unlikely.



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