Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Coakley And The Supremes Deliver A Blow To Casino Gambling

Today the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Carcieri v. Salazar, No. 07-526. The issue was whether the U.S. Department of Interior could acquire land and hold it in trust for the Narragansett Indian Tribe even though the Narragansetts weren't federally recognized when Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934. The case turns on a single word of the Act: "now". The nut of the issue is whether "now" means when the statute was enacted in 1934 or if it is ambiguous and can mean when the Department wants to acquire the land in question.

That's the legal issue. The practical issue is that casino gambling in Indian Country becomes a much tougher proposition under the former interpretation than the latter. The Supreme Court adopted the former interpretation, and the Mashpee Wampanoag are not happy about it.*

The Breyer concurrence (it starts on page 20) makes some sense. He notes that the guy from the Department of Interior who suggested the provision in question way back when "subsequently explained its meaning in terms that the Court now adopts." Of course, Justice Thomas, who wrote the majority opinion, does everything he can to discount the importance of this, er, pretty important fact. Why? Because he hates relying on legislative history that much.

An interesting side note here is that Attorney General Coakley signed on to an amicus brief in support of the Rhode Island position and against the Narragansett position. You can sort of see why she signed on to the brief. Acquisition by the Department of Interior effectively takes the land in question outside of her jurisdiction. But here's the rhetorical question: have we not done enough to screw over the Narragansetts (and the Wampanoags, the Seminoles, the Sioux, and on and on . . .) that we ought to let them build a casino? Or, like, a lot of casinos?

*Note to Matt Viser and the Boston Globe: there are nine Supreme Court justices. Three of them dissented, at least in part. So this was not a 6-1 decision. It was a 6-3 decision. Just because you didn't understand what two of the justices did doesn't mean you don't count their votes. Also: why no quote from Coakley? Finally: monitor your comments; some of them here are pretty offensive.

UPDATE (11:06 a.m.): Matt Viser corrects the vote count in his print piece. Still no quote from Coakley's office, though.

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