County of Oneida, New York v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York State

PETITIONER: County of Oneida, New York
RESPONDENT: Oneida Indian Nation of New York State
LOCATION: San Francisco Scrap Metals, Inc.

DOCKET NO.: 83-1065
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 470 US 226 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 01, 1984
DECIDED: Mar 04, 1985

Allan van Gestel - on behalf of Petitioners
Arlinda F. Locklear - on behalf of Respondents
Edwin S. Kneedler - as amicus curiae
Peter H. Schiff - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for County of Oneida, New York v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York State

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 01, 1984 in County of Oneida, New York v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York State

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in County of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation and New York State in the related case.

Mr. van Gestel, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Allan van Gestel:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case is a test case, having been so designated by the plaintiffs, having been so treated by the courts below.

As is in many cases before this Court, the decision will reach far beyond the boundaries of this case.

In this case in particular, it will reach much beyond the boundaries.

The 1974 opinion in this case has already spawned a vast number of Indian land claims.

A number of cases are pending throughout eastern states and southern states, citing the 1974 jurisdictional opinion as if it were an opinion on the merits of the issues.

That case, indeed, has already been cited 162 times since 1974.

This case has some history in it, and I checked to see how many opinions were rendered by the Supreme Court of the United States between 1790 and 1795, the date on which the transaction in issue occurred here, and there were only 16.

What is involved here is a purchase of land by the State of New York from the Oneida Indian Nation in 1795.

The claim, filed about 175 years later, is that the State of New York failed to comply with the restrictions and limitations contained in the second Indian Trade and Intercourse Act, the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1793, and the claim is that as a result, the Oneida Indians, rather than the Counties of Madison and Oneida and the others who live in the claim area, the 100,000 acres involved, presently own that land.

Own is a word that is important because the Oneida Indians are, as this Court has recognized, an institution with a degree and element of sovereignty in it, so that owning the land by the Oneida Indians is quite a bit different than owning it by someone else.

The Trade and Intercourse Acts were first passed in 1790 by the very first Congress of the United States.

A principal question to be decided in this case is what was the intent of that Congress in passing the first Trade and Intercourse Acts.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. van Gestel.

Allan van Gestel:

Yesa, sir.

William H. Rehnquist:

To get back for a moment to the point you adverted to earlier, this is a case about ownership and not about sovereignty as such, I take it here.

Allan van Gestel:

No, Your Honor.

What I meant to suggest was that when ownership is in an Indian tribe as opposed to an individual Indian or another individual, you have to deal with the elements of sovereignty that are inherent in being an Indian tribe.

You cannot avoid it.

So this really is a case that implicates the sovereignty of the Indian nation.

If they own the land, they are sovereigns over it to at least a degree as permitted by the current law.

William H. Rehnquist:

Wouldn't there have to be a reservation embracing the land?

Allan van Gestel:

No, there would not have to be a reservation.

As I read the cases of this Court, simply land owned by an Indian tribe or nation is land that is subject to the sovereign rights and powers of that Indian nation.

It does not have to be a reservation created, let's say, by the Congress of the United States.

I think then we do then turn to the issue of whether the first Congress or the Congress in 1793 which passed the second Trade and Intercourse Act, intended that there would be a private right of action available under that statute.

And in so doing, we look to the recent work of this Court, starting principally in 1975 with Cort v. Ash and the cases that have flown therefrom.

We have a situation here in which there is a statute which is comprehensive.