Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak and Circle Village

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Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak and Circle Village by Antonin Scalia
Court Documents
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

501 U.S. 775

Blatchford  v.  Native Village of Noatak and Circle Village

No. 89-1782  Argued: Feb. 19, 1991. --- Decided: June 24, 1991


Respondents, Alaska Native villages, brought suit against petitioner, a state official, seeking an order requiring payment to them of money allegedly owed under a state revenue-sharing statute. The District Court dismissed the suit as violating the Eleventh Amendment. The Court of Appeals reversed, first on the ground that 28 U.S.C. § 1362 constituted a congressional abrogation of Eleventh Amendment immunity, and then, upon reconsideration, on the ground that Alaska had no immunity against suits by Indian tribes.


1. The Eleventh Amendment bars suits by Indian tribes against States without their consent. Respondents' argument that traditional principles of sovereign immunity restrict suits only by individuals, and not by other sovereigns, was rejected in Monaco v. Mississippi, 292 U.S. 313, 322-323, 54 S.Ct. 745, 747-748, 78 L.Ed. 1282. Nor is there merit to respondents' contention that the States consented to suits by tribes in the "plan of the convention." See ibid. Just as in Monaco with regard to foreign sovereigns, see id., at 330, 54 S.Ct., at 751, there is no compelling evidence that the Founders thought that the States waived their immunity with regard to tribes when they adopted the Constitution. Although tribes are in some respects more like States-which may sue each other, South Dakota v. North Carolina, 192 U.S. 286, 318, 24 S.Ct. 269, 275-276, 48 L.Ed. 448 than like foreign sovereigns, it is the mutuality of concession that makes the States' surrender of immunity from suits by sister States plausible. There is no such mutuality with tribes, which have been held repeatedly to enjoy immunity against suits by States. Oklahoma Tax Commission v. Citizen Band Potawatomi Indian Tribe of Okla., 498 U.S. ----, ----, 111 S.Ct. 905, 911, 112 L.Ed.2d 1112. Pp. 779-782.

2. Section 1362-which grants district courts original jurisdiction to hear "all civil actions, brought by any Indian tribe . . ., wherein the matter in controversy arises under" federal law-does not operate to void the Eleventh Amendment's bar of tribes' suits against States. Pp. 782-788.

(a) Assuming the doubtful proposition that the Federal Government's exemption from state sovereign immunity can be delegated, § 1362 does not embody a general delegation to tribes of the Federal Government's authority, under United States v. Minnesota, 270 U.S. 181, 195, 46 S.Ct. 298, 301, 70 L.Ed. 539, to sue States on the tribes' behalf. Although Moe v. Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, 425 U.S. 463, 96 S.Ct. 1634, 48 L.Ed.2d 96-which held that § 1362 revoked as to tribes the Tax Injunction Act's denial of federal court access to persons other than the United States seeking injunctive relief from state taxation-equated tribal access to federal court with the United States' access, it did not purport to do so generally, nor on the basis of a "delegation" theory, nor with respect to constitutional (as opposed to merely statutory) constraints. Pp. 783-786.

(b) Nor does § 1362 abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity. It does not satisfy the standard for congressional abrogation set forth in Dellmuth v. Muth, 491 U.S. 223, 227-228, 109 S.Ct. 2397, 2399-2400, 105 L.Ed.2d 181, since it does not reflect an "unmistakably clear" intent to abrogate immunity, made plain "in the language of the statute." Nor was it a sufficiently clear statement under the less stringent standard of Parden v. Terminal Railway of Alabama Docks Dept., 377 U.S. 184, 84 S.Ct. 1207, 12 L.Ed.2d 233, which case (unlike Dellmuth ) had already been decided at the time of § 1362's enactment in 1966. That case neither mentioned nor was premised on abrogation (as opposed to consensual waiver)-and indeed the Court did not even acknowledge the possibility of congressional abrogation until 1976, Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, 96 S.Ct. 2666, 49 L.Ed.2d 614. Pp. 786-788.

3. Respondents' argument that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar their claim for injunctive relief must be considered initially by the Court of Appeals on remand. P. 788.

896 F.2d 1157 (CA 9 1990), reversed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and STEVENS, JJ., joined.

Rex E. Lee, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Lawrence A. Aschenbrenner, Anchorage, Alaska, for respondents.

Justice SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).