County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes & Bands of Yakima Indian Nation - Oral Argument - November 05, 1991

County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes & Bands of Yakima Indian Nation

Media for County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes & Bands of Yakima Indian Nation

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 14, 1992 in County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes & Bands of Yakima Indian Nation

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 05, 1991 in County of Yakima v. Confederated Tribes & Bands of Yakima Indian Nation

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 90-408, County of Yakima v. Confederate Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation, and 90-577, vice versa.

Mr. Sullivan, you may proceed.

Jeffrey C. Sullivan:

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

Can Yakima County impose real estate property tax on fee lands owned by tribal members and the Yakima Indian Nation and collect its real estate excise tax on the sale of those fee lands?

It is our position that this authority exists, that Congress has reaffirmed that authority on a number of occasions since its inception in 1887, that this Court has uniformly held that the tax on fee lands is appropriate, and that generally everybody agreed with that position, including the Solicitor General and its staff until 1989... we say, and believe in response to the decision of the district court in this case.

In 1887, the General Allotment Act was passed.

The General Allotment Act, for the purposes of this case, provided a number of things.

First, land was to be held in trust for a 25-year period of time.

At the end of that trust period, the individual allottees were to receive fee patents.

With those fee patents went two things: (1) citizenship, and (2) the responsibility of paying tax... along with the rights of alienation of that property, and the ability to sell and deal with it as any other citizen would.

In 1906 the Congress reaffirmed and clarified, we believe, its intent.

In 1906 the Burke Act was passed.

It was passed in... partly in response to one of this Court's opinions in In Re Heff, to reaffirm that you didn't become a citizen until the fee patent was issued.

But when it was issued, you became a citizen; and secondly, the 1906 act shortened the trust period, or at least it allowed the Secretary to shorten the trust period from 25 years into a basically an individual decision of the Secretary.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Sullivan, on land within a reservation, where a fee title is held by an Indian member of the tribe, but it was patented and the title was issued; and if that land is later transferred, does State law govern what it takes to make a transfer and pass title?

Jeffrey C. Sullivan:

Yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And what about if the owner were to die without leaving a will, what law would govern the passage of that land?

Jeffrey C. Sullivan:

I believe that the... if the... if it's a tribal member--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

If the owner is a tribal member.

Jeffrey C. Sullivan:

--I believe that the fee lands would pass under the provisions of State law.

The balance of his estate would pass under the rights of inheritance as established in the United States Code and rules of--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Have there been cases involving that, to your knowledge?

Jeffrey C. Sullivan:

--I don't believe it ever has been raised, or any case in which it has been a problem, Your Honor.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Thank you.

Jeffrey C. Sullivan:

In 1906, this Court was called about in Goudy v. Meath to address this issue.

Do tribal members who own fee patent have to pay real estate property tax?

This Court said, it requires a technical and narrow construction to hold that involuntary alienation continues to be forbidden, while the power of voluntary alienation is granted.

And it is disregarding the act of Congress to hold that an Indian having property is not subject to taxation when he is a subject to all the laws, civil and criminal, of the State.

Subsequent to that... particularly the 1906 act and also this Court's decision in Goudy... and I think, parenthetic, it's important to understand because the Government has raised it, but what about property that doesn't follow exactly from the Allotment Act itself?

The property in Goudy came from a different act.