Rice v. Rehner

LOCATION: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 82-401
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 463 US 713 (1983)
ARGUED: Mar 21, 1983
DECIDED: Jul 01, 1983

Alan S. Meth - on behalf of the Petitioner
Joshua I. Schwartz - on behalf of the U.S. as amicus curiae
Stephen V. Quesenberry - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Rice v. Rehner

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 21, 1983 in Rice v. Rehner

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Rice against Rehner.

Mr. Meth, I think you may proceed when you are ready.

Alan S. Meth:

Thank you.

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

This case is here under the certiorari from the Court of Appeals from the Ninth Circuit to review a decision of that court which held that California did not have the authority to regulate through licensing Indian country liquor transactions.

In so doing, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment of the District Court which had upheld the right of California to regulate through licensing Indian country liquor transactions.

This case asked the Court to resolve two well-established and entirely distinct principles.

On the one hand is the principle that Indians and Indian tribes are to be left free of state control and their affairs governed by themselves and by the United States.

The other principle is that it is the states which have the authority to determine how liquor transactions within the state's borders are to take place.

This case began about six years ago when Respondent, who is a tribal Indian living on a reservation in a northern part of San Diego County, the Pala Reservation, requested that she be allowed to sell distilled spirits from her general store, which is located on the Pala Indian Reservation.

She made the request to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which has the authority under California law to require and enforce California's liquor licensing system.

The Department denied Respondent's request for an exemption from California's liquor licensing laws, and Respondent then filed suit in the District Court seeking injunctive and declaratory relief.

And, the basis for that suit was that as a tribal Indian seeking to sell distilled spirits from her store located in Indian country she was exempt from California's liquor licensing laws.

The Department moved to dismiss the complaint or for summary judgment, and the District Court agreed with the Department that it had the authority to require licenses, and, therefore dismissed the complaint.

The case was then appealed to the Court of Appeals which, after a lengthy stay in that Court, reversed the decision of the District Court and held that California's liquor licensing laws as opposed to its state substantive laws had no impact in Indian country and need not be followed.

This case thus presents the question whether a state has the authority to require tribal Indians to obtain a state license if state law requires the license be obtained before liquor transactions take place in Indian country.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

May I clarify one thing, Mr. Meth, at the outset.

The state of California does not base any reliance in this case on any jurisdiction it might have obtained under Public Law 280?

Alan S. Meth:

That is correct.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And, why is that?

Alan S. Meth:

Public Law 280, as we read it, is a criminal jurisdictional type of statute.

The request made in this case was solely for a license.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

And, also some forms of civil jurisdiction, right?

Alan S. Meth:

That is correct.

Public Law 280--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Then, it is your position that it would not encompass liquor licensing?

Alan S. Meth:

--The criminal and civil jurisdiction which California has under Public Law 280 may come into play somewhere further down the line if Respondent is required to obtain a license and then doesn't act, which is both punishable under the licensing system and the criminal system.

If it is punishable under the criminal system, Public Law 280 would give California the authority to punish that act criminally.

But, as far as the disciplinary action which California through the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would take against Respondent under the licensing system, that authority, we believe, is contained in Section 1161.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, in any event, Public Law 280 is applicable in the state of California?