On Wednesday, June 15, 2022, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion on the appeal filed by the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo ("Pueblo") concerning the Fifth Circuit's decision to permit the State of Texas ("State") to regulate electronic bingo on Indian lands. Finding for the Pueblo, the Supreme Court said that while Texas "contends that Congress expressly ordained that all of its gaming laws should be treated as surrogate federal law enforceable on the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Reservation ... we find no evidence Congress endowed state law with anything like the power Texas claims."
This matter arose out of years of litigation between the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and the State concerning whether any gaming may be offered by the Pueblo on its Indian lands, and if so, to what extent gaming would be permitted. The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo was terminated in 1968, but Congress restored the Pueblo by enacting the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta Indian Tribes of Texas Restoration Act ("Restoration Act") in 1987, just one year prior to the enactment of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act ("IGRA"). While the Pueblo would regain its federal trust status, the Restoration Act came with a caveat— "[a]ll gaming activities which are prohibited by the laws of the State of Texas [were] prohibited on the reservation and on lands of the [Ysleta del Sur Pueblo]." Nevertheless, following the enaction of IGRA, the Pueblo sought to negotiate a Class III gaming compact with the State, which the State refused, citing the Restoration Act. In 2016, the Pueblo began to offer electronic bingo as a class II game. The State attempted to shut down all of the Pueblo's bingo operations, and after working its way through the courts, the Pueblo appealed to the Supreme Court.
On February 22, 2022, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments. During arguments, the Pueblo asserted that the language of the Restoration Act has been misinterpreted and that because the Restoration Act does not prohibit bingo, IGRA and its regulatory language prevails. The State argued that the language of IGRA and the Restoration Act are incompatible, and thus the specific provisions of the Restoration Act prevail over the general provisions of IGRA, permitting the State to extend its restrictions as federal law on Indian lands within the state. Questions from the justices during arguments suggested that the case turned on whether the interpretation of "prohibited" in the Restoration Act should comport with the Court's own interpretation handed down in California v. Cabazon Band of Mission Indian (1987). In Cabazon, which was handed down six months prior to the passing of the Restoration Act, the Court interpreted Public Law 280 "to mean that only 'prohibitory' state gaming laws could be applied on the Indian lands in question, not state 'regulatory' gaming laws."
On June 15, 2022, the 5-4 decision in Ysleta del Sur Pueblo v. Texas, with a majority penned by Justice Neil Gorsuch, upheld the Court's prior interpretation of prohibitory and regulatory laws. "[A]t the time Congress adopted the Restoration Act, Cabazon was not only a relevant precedent; it was the precedent." Expounding that the state bingo laws at issue in Cabazon were nearly identical to the ones at issue in Texas, the majority "[did] not see how [it] might fairly read the terms of the Restoration Act except in the same light." Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the dissent, took what he called a more "straightforward reading" of the Restoration Act and found that it "makes clear that all gaming activities prohibited in Texas are also barred on the Tribe's land."
The full text of the Supreme Court's opinion can be found here: supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/20-493_jgko.pdf. Please contact Danielle Her Many Horses at email@example.com with any questions or concerns with this alert.