Average Joe SCOTUS: Yellen v. Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation

You like drama? Well, here’s some drama. Back in 1971, trying to do something to be nice to native Americans, Congress enacted the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). This law created Alaska Native Corporations (ANCs). The ANCs are for-profit companies, within the native American community, that exist to help native Americans. But, they are not a tribe with a recognized government.

In 1975, congress created the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (ISDA). The purpose of this, was to give power back to the Native American’s to manage their own fucking affairs, instead of Uncle Sam doing it for them. Since Native Americans and Uncle Sam have a troubled history, seems like a nice thing to do.

Within the ISDA, it defines an “Indian tribe” as “any Indian tribe, band, nation, or other organized group or community, including any Alaska Native village or regional or village corporation as defined in or established pursuant to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (85 Stat. 688), which is recognized as eligible for the special programs and services provided by the United States to Indians because of their status as Indians.”

So then along comes COVID, and it’s myriad of government actions to help people out, including native Americans. Within that law, they set aside money to help any Native Americans as defined in the ISDA.

In 1994, congress passed a List Act, forcing the Bureau of Indian Affairs to publish an annual list of tribes eligible for special benefits set aside for native Americans.

Here’s the drama part. ANCs aren’t in that definition above. You could creatively argue they are, but the text doesn’t really say they are.

So, since it’s a limited resource, all the other native tribes are like, “Hey motherfucker, the ANCs are not fucking tribes, and therefore they shouldn’t get a slice of our pie. They’re for-profit companies who are already making bank. They don’t need this money, but we do!” Basically, they’ve got beef with ANCs because they’re corporations to help the native American tribes, not the tribes themselves.

But the ANCs are like, “Dude, seriously? This is relief meant for native Americans, we’re native Americans, and the text is pretty easy to argue it includes us, even if we’re not specifically named. So go fuck yourself.”

A district court sided with the ANCs, despite them traditionally not being considered a tribe, since the text seems to pretty clearly include them, even if not explicitly listed. But then the DC Court of Appeals was like, “the text is the text motherfuckers. If congress had wanted to help the ANCs in the Cares act, they should have fucking mentioned them specifically.

Counsel for the government, who wants to help the ANCs, was like, “In that definition above, they say ” including any Alaska Native village or regional or village corporation,” and then go on to say, ” recognized as eligible for the special programs.” We agree that the ANCs aren’t typically recognized as tribes. But if we’re to believe these dumb cunts across the aisle, they’re saying congress included us in the first part of that definition, only to exclude us in the last part of it? Give me a fucking break! How fucking dumb to you have to be to come to that conclusion?”

During Breyer’s questions, he struggled to understand how ANCs were included, since they typically are not considered tribes. But counsel Guarnieri pointed out that in other laws, when congress has mentioned the ISDA definition, it has went on to exclude the the ANCs, which only makes sense if they believe the definition included them by itself. Otherwise, why exclude them if they’re not included in the first place? Justice Breyer was like, “thanks bro, makes total sense now.”

Justice Sotomayor decided to have a completely separate issue. Apparently worried about rocking the boat, she asked:

How do we rule in a narrow way that affects only the CARES Act and not the many other acts that are involved where ISDA mentioned the Johnson-O’Malley Act, the Snyder Act, which I think is now the Indian Health Improvement Act, and the Transfer Act?

Basically she was like, “If we side with you, this will affect like a million other laws and shit, because we’ll be redefining what the fuck qualifies as an Indian tribe for the purposes of all federal legislation.

In a non-partisan 6:3 decision, SCOTUS ruled in favor of Yellen (Secretary of the Treasury). As such, the ANCs are Indian Tribes under ISDA, and entitled to those benefits.

Hear oral arguments or read about the case here.


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