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U.S. Supreme Court

New Mexico v. Mescalero Apache Tribe, 462 U.S. 324 (1983)

New Mexico v. Mescalero Apache Tribe

No. 82-331

Argued April 19, 1983

Decided June 13, 1983

462 U.S. 324


With extensive federal assistance, respondent Indian Tribe has established a comprehensive scheme for managing the fish and wildlife resources on its reservation in New Mexico. Federally approved tribal ordinances regulate in detail the conditions under which both members of the Tribe and nonmembers may hunt and fish. New Mexico has hunting and fishing regulations that conflict with, and in some instances are more restrictive than, the tribal regulations, and the State has applied its regulations to hunting and fishing by nonmembers on the reservation. The Tribe filed suit in Federal District Court, seeking to prevent the State from regulating on-reservation hunting and fishing. The District Court ruled in the Tribe's favor and granted declaratory and injunctive relief. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The application of New Mexico's laws to on-reservation hunting and fishing by nonmembers of the Tribe is preempted by the operation of federal law. Pp. 462 U. S. 330-344.

(a) The exercise of concurrent jurisdiction by the State would effectively nullify the Tribe's unquestioned authority to regulate the use of its resources by members and nonmembers, would interfere with the comprehensive tribal regulatory scheme, and would threaten Congress' overriding objective of encouraging tribal self-government and economic development. Pp. 462 U. S. 338-341.

(b) The State has failed to identify any interests that would justify the assertion of concurrent regulatory authority. Any financial interest that the State might have by way of revenues from the sale of licenses to nonmembers who hunt or fish on the reservation or matching federal funds based on the number of state licenses sold is insufficient justification, especially where the loss of such revenues is likely to be insubstantial. Pp. 462 U. S. 341-343.

677 F.2d 55, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 462 U. S. 325

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