The Obama administration has indicated that it supports efforts in Congress to reverse or “fix” the Carcieri v. Salazar Supreme Court decision that prevents tribes recognized after 1934 from putting land into federal trust.
“There is a problem here that needs to be fixed,” Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said last month during a news conference.
The Supreme Court last year ruled that the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 expressly provides for putting lands into trust for tribes that were recognized during or before that year. This, despite the fact that the Department of the Interior has put land for many tribes into trust since that year.
The president recently met with tribal leaders from all over the country. Many of them are pressuring congressional leaders to pass a bill that would allow tribes such as the Narragansett Indians of Rhode Island, recognized in the 1980s, to move forward with their land applications. Although that tribe’s particular case did not involve putting land into trust for the purpose of building a casino, most tribes pursuing applications have just that in mind.
Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, chairman of the House Resources Committee, has held hearings on the issue since summer and supports two drafts of legislation. Senator Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, has been following the same path in the Senate. Both have voted bills out of committee.
Not everyone is happy at this prospect, however. Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal commented that without the protection provided by the Carcieri decision the Department of the Interior has almost unlimited discretion in taking land into federal trust.
“The current system is lawless, without standards, without guidelines,” Blumenthal said. However, supporters of bills being considered are digging in their heels at the notion of widening the scope of the legislation in order to reform the process for putting land into trust. Critics of the tribal practice of looking for parcels of land closer to metropolitan areas derisively call it “reservation shopping.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agrees with Blumenthal. He has said he won’t allow any legislation to reach the Senate floor unless it addresses the issue of off-the-reservation casinos-something that Reid, looking after the interests of commercial casinos in his state of Nevada, opposes.