Court Precedent Determining the Limits of Tribal Sovereignty in Agua Claiente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Fair Political Practices Commission of California State


The Los Angeles Times reported (July 17, 2008) that on June 29th, the Agua Caliente Band dropped its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court against California State and the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) after the FPPC sued them and won in California Supreme court . The tribe agreed to waive its sovereign immunity in area of disclosing tribal campaign contributions under California’s Political Reform Act (PRA) of 1974. The tribe owns two casinos and much of the resort town of Palm Springs, CA. It is one of the wealthiest tribes in the U.S. according to Sharon O’Brien (221) , and they spent $20 million on political campaigns between ’02 and July ’07 according to Nancy Vogel of L.A. Times. According to Howard Dickstein, attorney who represents California tribes, when tribes across the U.S. heard about this case going to the U.S. Supreme Court they feared a “wholesale attack of tribal sovereignty” (qtd. in “Tribe drops fight”). The question posed in this paper is how would the U.S. Supreme Court rule if this appeal was carried out?

The U.S. Supreme Court would probably rule in favor of state in keeping with recent trend to take advantage of tribes’ diminished status. However, they should rule in favor of tribe because diminished status does not mean the tribe has lost their sovereign immunity from the PRA. Instead of a loose interpretation of state powers over tribes, the court should seek to preserve both state and tribal sovereignty as they presently exist. Questions of line between state and tribal governments should ideally be left to legislative or in some cases executive and not judicial branch of federal government. As Lone Wolf (1903) decision said, “the power [U.S. plenary power] has always been deemed a political one, not subject to be controlled by the judicial department” (51). The court should also take into consideration that many tribal communities suffer socioeconomically and any further diminishing of their status is deleterious.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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