Carcieri v. Salazar

555 U.S. 379 (2009)

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Carcieri v. Salazar

United States Supreme Court
555 U.S. 379 (2009)

Facts

Under § 479 of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 (IRA), the Secretary of the Interior (the secretary) (defendant) may acquire land and hold it in trust on behalf of “any recognized Indian tribe now under Federal jurisdiction.” In 1983, the Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island (the tribe) (defendant) was federally recognized. In 1988, the secretary agreed to hold in trust the tribe’s ancestral land. In 1991, the tribe (defendant) purchased additional land (the parcel) for housing development. To avoid having to comply with local building regulations, the tribe requested that the secretary hold the parcel in trust pursuant to the IRA, and the secretary obliged. Rhode Island, its governor, and other state entities (collectively, the state) (plaintiffs) challenged the secretary’s actions before the Department of the Interior Board of Indian Appeals (the board), a federal district court, and the First Circuit. The state argued that the secretary lacked the authority to acquire and hold the parcel in trust because the “now under Federal jurisdiction” language in § 479 of the IRA meant that a tribe had to be under federal jurisdiction at the time the IRA was passed in 1934, which the tribe was not. The secretary argued that “now” in § 479 was ambiguous and could reasonably be interpreted to mean at the time the secretary began to hold the land in trust. The board upheld the secretary’s authority, and the district court subsequently granted summary judgment in the secretary’s favor. The First Circuit affirmed, finding that “now” in § 479 was ambiguous. Therefore, the First Circuit gave deference to the secretary’s interpretation, holding that the interpretation passed the Chevron test—i.e., that (1) Congress had not already addressed the issue and (2) the secretary’s interpretation was reasonable. The state appealed, and the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Thomas, J.)

Concurrence (Breyer, J.)

Concurrence/Dissent (Souter, J.)

Dissent (Stevens, J.)

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