By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
6/20/2012 (3 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
In a landmark victory, the Supreme Court has ruled that the government must reimburse Native American tribes for millions of dollars they spent on federal programs. Congress allocated $1.6 billion to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for "the operations of Indian programs" in 2000, but only $120.2 million was paid out. The tribes filed suit, and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver now says the money must be fully reimbursed.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - in addition, the federal government had agreed to fully reimburse money tribes spent on programs such as law enforcement, environmental protection and agricultural assistance. Congress has since capped the amount of money earmarked for that reimbursement.
The Ramah Navajo Chapter and other Native American tribes must get their money back, the court ruled
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion for Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito voiced dissenting opinions.
"We stressed that the government's obligation to pay contract support costs should be treated as an ordinary contract promise," Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority ruling.
"The government was obligated to pay the tribes' contract support costs in full."
"Between FY [financial year] 1994 and 2001, appropriations covered only between 77 percent and 92 percent of tribes' aggregate contract support costs," the judgment read.
President of the Ramah Navajo Chapter in New Mexico Rodger Martinez was a plaintiff in the case; He told newspaper journalists that they were sad the case had to go to the Supreme Court, but "happy that they sided with us.
"This gets us back to the principle that the government must pay us what we are entitled to," he added.
Lawyer Jonathan Cohn says that it was a rare occasion for the Supreme Court to side with the tribes.
"The government was trying to treat tribal contractors differently from all other contractors. If you were talking about a defense contractor, I don't think this case would have reached the Supreme Court - the government would have paid up long ago," Cohn added.
In a related story, a dispute has broken out over plans in Chicago to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Fort Dearborn, in which 60 Americans and 15 Native Americans were killed.
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