Supreme Court Rules Feds Must Pay Up On Contracts With Tribes

Jun 19, 2012

Northwest tribes stand to receive big payments from the federal government after a U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday. Here’s the upshot of the ruling: the government has to uphold contracts with American Indian tribes -- even if Congress shortchanges those deals.

Many tribes have taken over services that the federal government used to provide -- like education and law enforcement. But legally, the government is still required to foot the bill. So it contracts with the tribe itself to provide the services. Except -- the federal government’s checks have frequently come up short.

The Interior Department argued Congress doesn’t allocate enough funding for full reimbursement. But in a 5-4 ruling, the high court said: a contract is a contract.

Anchorage attorney Lloyd Miller represented tribes in the case. He says every tribe in the country was underpaid.  “That would be unheard of in the defense industry -- to sign contracts to build jet fighters to feed our troops, and then not to pay the contract and not to go back to Congress if you ran short.”

It’s not yet clear how much money Northwest tribes would receive after the ruling.

 The case split the justices along unusual lines. Justices Sotomayor, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Kagan sided with tribes while Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Alito and Chief Justice Roberts dissented.


Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network