American Indians

Supreme Court Hears Case About Lawsuits Against Indian Tribes

Could affect commercial and gaming activities within sovereign territories

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A small, shuttered casino in a tiny northern Michigan town is at the center of a case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court today that could redefine when American Indian tribes can be sued and under what conditions.

A far-reaching decision — if the court makes one — could impact all sorts of commercial activities taken by tribes: from casino gambling to payday lending, and give state governments more leeway to sue American Indian groups.

As it stands now, the federal government can file suit against a tribe, but states are largely barred from doing so unless a tribe either has agreed to waive its sovereign immunity or had it abrogated by Congress.

But the Michigan attorney general's office is arguing that immunity shouldn't stop its suit to block the Bay Mills tribe from opening a casino outside of tribal lands, since the federal government has so far declined to act.