The federal government had agreed to fully reimburse money tribes spent on programs like law enforcement, environmental protection and agricultural assistance. But in the mid-1990s Congress capped the amount of money earmarked for that reimbursement.
The tribes sued, and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the money must be fully reimbursed. The high court upheld the lower court’s decision.
Brian Quint is a government legislative affairs associate in Washington for the Navajo Nation.
"Historically the Supreme Court has not been the greatest forum for tribal rights to be upheld," Quint said. "This ruling is very encouraging since it does hold the federal government responsible in a positive way to tribal self government."
Quint didn’t know how much money was owed tribes or when they would be reimbursed.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion for Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito dissented.