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U.S. Supreme Court

Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez, 436 U.S. 49 (1978)

Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez

No. 76-682

Argued November 29, 1977

Decided May 15, 1978

436 U.S. 49


Respondents, a female member of the Santa Clara Pueblo and her daughter, brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief against petitioners, the Pueblo and its Governor, alleging that a Pueblo ordinance that denies tribal membership to the children of female members who marry outside the tribe, but not to similarly situated children of men of that tribe, violates Title I of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (ICRA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1301-1303, which, in relevant part, provides that "[n]o Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws." 25 U.S.C. § 1302(8). The ICRA's only express remedial provision, 25 U.S.C. § 1303, extends the writ of habeas corpus to any person, in a federal court, "to test the legality of his detention by order of an Indian tribe." The District Court held that jurisdiction was conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1343(4) and 25 U.S.C. § 1302(8), apparently concluding that the substantive provisions of Title I impliedly authorized civil actions for declaratory and injunctive relief, and also that the tribe was not immune from such a suit. Subsequently, the court found for petitioners on the merits. The Court of Appeals, while agreeing on the jurisdictional issue, reversed on the merits.


1. Suits against the tribe under the ICRA are barred by the tribe's sovereign immunity from suit, since nothing on the face of the ICRA purports to subject tribes to the jurisdiction of federal courts in civil actions for declaratory or injunctive relief. Pp. 436 U. S. 58-59.

2. Nor does § 1302 impliedly authorize a private cause of action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Pueblo's Governor. Congress' failure to provide remedies other than habeas corpus for enforcement of the ICRA was deliberate, as is manifest from the structure of the statutory scheme and the legislative history of Title I. Pp. 436 U. S. 59-72.

(a) Congress was committed to the goal of tribal self-determination, as is evidenced by the provisions of Title I itself. Section 1302 selectively incorporated and in some instances modified the safeguards of the Bill of Rights to fit the unique needs of tribal governments, and other parts of the ICRA similarly manifest a congressional purpose to protect tribal sovereignty from undue interference. Creation of a federal cause

Page 436 U. S. 50

of action for the enforcement of § 1302 rights would not comport with the congressional goal of protecting tribal self-government. Pp. 436 U. S. 62-65.

(b) Tribal courts, which have repeatedly been recognized as appropriate forums for adjudicating disputes involving important interests of both Indians and non-Indians, are available to vindicate rights created by the ICRA. Pp. 436 U. S. 65-66.

(c) After considering numerous alternatives for review of tribal criminal convictions, Congress apparently decided that review by way of habeas corpus would adequately protect the individual interests at stake while avoiding unnecessary intrusions on tribal governments. Similarly, Congress considered and rejected proposals for federal review of alleged violations of the ICRA arising in a civil context. It is thus clear that only the limited review mechanism of § 1303 was contemplated. Pp. 436 U. S. 66-70.

(d) By not exposing tribal officials to the full array of federal remedies available to redress actions of federal and state officials, Congress may also have considered that resolution of statutory issues under § 1302, and particularly those issues likely to arise in a civil context, will frequently depend on questions of tribal tradition and custom that tribal forums may be in a better position to evaluate than federal courts. Pp. 436 U. S. 71-72.

540 F.2d 1039, reversed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, STEWART, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and in all but Part III of which REHNQUIST, J., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 436 U. S. 72. BLACKMUN, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 436 U. S. 51

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