In a rare win for Indian Country, the nation’s highest court has sided with tribal interests in a closely watched sovereign immunity case.
By a vote of 7 to 2, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday set aside a decision that opened the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe to a lawsuit in Washington state. Though further proceedings are still on the horizon, the move marks a procedural win for the tribe.
But more significantly, the justices have decided to “set things straight,” in the words of the court’s newest member. A decades-old decision, commonly known as Yakima, cannot be used against tribes to abrogate their sovereign immunity, Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.
“The source of confusion in the lower courts that led to our review was the one about Yakima, and we have dispelled it,” Gorsuch wrote in the seven-page decision in Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Lundgren.
“That is work enough for the day,” he wrote.
“This Supreme Court decision reminds everyone the right of a Native American Community to act as a sovereign nation is undisputed.”