Subscribe to Cases that cite 439 U. S. 463

U.S. Supreme Court

Washington v. Yakima Indian Nation, 439 U.S. 463 (1979)

Washington v. Confederated Bands and Tribes of the

Yakima Indian Nation

No. 77-388

Argued October 2, 1978

Decided January 16, 1979

439 U.S. 463


Section 6 of Pub.L. 280 authorizes the people of States whose constitutions or statutes contain organic law disclaimers of jurisdiction over Indian country to amend "where necessary" their constitutions or statutes to remove any legal impediment to assumption of such jurisdiction under the Act, notwithstanding the provision of any Enabling Act for the admission of the State, but provided that the Act shall not become effective with respect to such assumption of jurisdiction until the people of the State have appropriately amended their state constitution or statutes, as the case may be. In § 7 of Pub.L. 280, Congress gave the consent of the United States

"to any other State . . . to assume jurisdiction at such time and in such manner as the people of the State shall, by affirmative legislative action, obligate and bind the State to assumption thereof."

The State of Washington's Constitution contains a disclaimer of authority over Indian country, and hence the State is one of those covered by § 6. In 1963, after the Washington Supreme Court, in another case, had held that the barrier posed by the disclaimer could be lifted by the state legislature, the legislature enacted a statute (Chapter 36) obligating the State to assume civil and criminal jurisdiction over Indians and Indian territory within the State, subject only to the condition that, in all but eight subject matter areas, jurisdiction would not extend to Indians on trust or restricted lands unless the affected tribe so requested. Appellee Yakima Nation, which did not make such a request, brought this action in Federal District Court challenging the statutory and constitutional validity of the State's partial assertion of jurisdiction on its Reservation. The Tribe contended that the State had not complied with the procedural requirements of Pub.L. 280, especially the requirement that the State first amend its constitution; that, in any event, Pub.L. 280 did not authorize the State to assert only partial jurisdiction within an Indian reservation; and that Chapter 36, even if authorized by Congress, violated the equal protection and due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment. The

Page 439 U. S. 464

District Court rejected both the statutory and constitutional claims, and entered judgment for the State. The Court of Appeals, while rejecting the contention that Washington's assumption of only partial jurisdiction was not authorized by Congress, reversed, holding that the "checkerboard" jurisdictional system produced by Chapter 36 had no rational foundation, and therefore violated the Equal Protection Clause.


1. Section 6 of Pub.L. 280 does not require disclaimer States to amend their constitutions to make an effective acceptance of jurisdiction over an Indian reservation, and any Enabling Act requirement of this nature was effectively repealed by § 6. Here, the Washington Supreme Court, having determined that, for purposes of the repeal of the state constitutional disclaimer, legislative action is sufficient, and, the state legislature having enacted legislation obligating the State to assume jurisdiction under Pub.L. 280, it follows that the State has satisfied the procedural requirements of § 6. Pp. 439 U. S. 478-493.

2. Once the requirements of § 6 have been satisfied, the terms of § 7 govern the scope of jurisdiction conferred upon disclaimer States. Statutory authorization for the partial subject matter and geographic jurisdiction asserted by Washington is found in the words of § 7 permitting option States to assume jurisdiction "in such manner" as the people of the State shall, "by affirmative legislative action, obligate and bind the State to assumption thereof." The phrase "in such manner" means at least that an option State can condition the assumption of full jurisdiction on an affected tribe's consent. Here, Washington has offered to assume full jurisdiction if a tribe so requests. The partial jurisdiction asserted on the reservations of nonconsenting tribes reflects a responsible attempt to accommodate both state and tribal interests, and is consistent with the concerns that underlay the adoption of Pub.L. 280. Accordingly, it does not violate the terms of § 7. Pp. 439 U. S. 493-499.

3. The "checkerboard" pattern of jurisdiction ordained by Chapter 36 is not, on its face, invalid under the Equal Protection Clause. Pp. 439 U. S. 499-502.

(a) The classifications based on tribal status and land tenure implicit in Chapter 36 are not "suspect," so as to require that they be justified by a compelling state interest, nor does Chapter 36 abridge any fundamental right of self-government. Pp. 439 U. S. 500-501.

(b) Chapter 36 is valid as bearing a rational relationship to the State's interest in providing protection to non-Indian citizens living within a reservation, while at the same time allowing scope for tribal self-government on trust or restricted lands, the land-tenure classification being neither an irrational nor arbitrary means of identifying those area

Page 439 U. S. 465

within a reservation in which tribal members have the greatest interest in being free of state police power. Pp. 439 U. S. 501-502.

552 F.2d 1332, reversed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 439 U. S. 502.

ChanRobles Legal Resources:

ChanRobles On-Line Bar Review

ChanRobles Internet Bar Review :

ChanRobles MCLE On-line

ChanRobles Lawnet Inc. - ChanRobles MCLE On-line :