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Babbitt v. Youpee

United States Supreme Court
519 U.S. 234 (1997)


Facts

Congress passed a regulation designed to improve a growing problem caused by an Indian land allotment policy that resulted in parcels of Indian land becoming fractionated, with individual parcels held by dozens of owners. The regulation provided that instead of passing in a fractionated manner to heirs, fractional interests in land would automatically escheat to the tribe. This regulation was struck down in Hodel v. Irving, 481 U.S. 704 (1987) as a taking of property without just compensation. Subsequently Congress amended the regulation (amendment) to permit the devise of a previously escheatable interest, but only to another owner of a fractional interest in the same parcel. The Youpees (plaintiffs) are the children and potential heirs of William Youpee, a member of the Sioux and Assiniboine Tribes. William died testate and devised his several interests in land to his children. Each interest was left to a single child. Under the amended regulation, the Youpees’ interests would escheat to the tribe because none of them owned another fractional interest in any of the parcels William was devising to them. The Youpees brought suit claiming a taking without just compensation. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of the Youpees.

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Holding and Reasoning (Ginsburg, J.)

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Dissent (Stevens, J.)

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