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U.S. Supreme Court

Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, 435 U.S. 191 (1978)

Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe

No. 76-5729

Argued January 9, 1978

Decided March 6, 1978*

435 U.S. 191


Indian tribal courts do not have inherent criminal jurisdiction to try and to punish non-Indians, and hence may not assume such jurisdiction unless specifically authorized to do so by Congress. Pp. 435 U. S. 195-212.

(a) From the earliest treaties with Indian tribes, it was assumed that the tribes, few of which maintained any semblance of a formal court system, did not have such jurisdiction absent a congressional statute or treaty provision to that effect, and at least one court held that such jurisdiction did not exist. Pp. 435 U. S. 196-201.

(b) Congress' actions during the 19th century reflected that body's belief that Indian tribes do not have inherent criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. Pp. 435 U. S. 201-206.

(c) The presumption, commonly shared by Congress, the Executive Branch, and lower federal courts, that tribal courts have no power to try non-Indians, carries considerable weight. P. 435 U. S. 206.

(d) By submitting to the overriding sovereignty of the United States, Indian tribes necessarily yield the power to try non-Indians except in a manner acceptable to Congress, a fact which seems to be recognized by the Treaty of Point Elliott, signed by the Suquamish Indian Tribe. Pp. 435 U. S. 206 211.

544 F.2d 1007 (Oliphant judgment), and Belgarde judgment, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J.,joined, post p. 435 U. S. 212. BRENNAN, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the cases.

Page 435 U. S. 192

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