Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida

PETITIONER: Seminole Tribe of Florida
LOCATION: Seminole Tribe

DOCKET NO.: 94-12
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 517 US 44 (1996)
ARGUED: Oct 11, 1995
DECIDED: Mar 27, 1996

Bruce S. Rogow - on behalf of the Petitioner
Drew S. Days, III - on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the Petitioner
Jonathan A. Glogau - on behalf of the Respondents

Facts of the case

The Seminole Tribe brought suit against the State of Florida for violating the good faith negotiations requirement of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). Under the IGRA, the Tribe may engage in gaming (i.e., casino gambling) activities subject to Florida's good faith regulations. Florida moved to dismiss the Tribe's action, alleging that the lawsuit violated Florida's sovereign immunity. On appeal from the District Court's denial of Florida's motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Eleventh Amendment shielded Florida from federal suit and that under Ex Parte Young, the Tribe may not enforce its right to good faith negotiations by naming Florida's governor as a party to the suit.


Does the Eleventh Amendment provide Florida with immunity from the Tribe lawsuit?

Media for Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 11, 1995 in Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Number 94 12, Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida.

Mr. Rogow.

Bruce S. Rogow:

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

One hundred and twenty one Indian tribes in 23 States have entered into 137 compacts pursuant to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

The act carefully balances the interests of three sovereigns, the States, the United States, and the Indian tribes.

The act provides the States with an opportunity to play a significant role in the scope of Indian gaming within those States.

Central to the act is the duty of State officials to negotiate in good faith with the Indian tribes regarding gaming, and central to the act is the ability of the tribes to sue the States in Federal court if the States have not negotiated in good faith.

The decision below held that the Seminole Tribe did not have the right to sue the State of Florida and its Governor in Federal court despite Congress' clear promise that that right existed.

The court below found that there was no consent by Florida to this lawsuit, and that under Article I, the Foreign... I'm sorry, the Indian Commerce Clause, there was no power in Congress to abrogate Eleventh Amendment immunity, and finally, the court found that Ex Parte Young did not work in this case.

Our position is, is that there is the power to abrogate under the Indian Commerce Clause, and that if there is not, Ex Parte Young permits Federal rights to be vindicated and the interests of the Supremacy Clause to be protected by the suit against the Governor.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Rogow, as a practical matter, what would the Indian tribes lose by the affirmance of the judgment of the Eleventh Circuit here?

They would still... they'd get regulations coming from the Secretary, which is what Congress could have given them in the first place.

Bruce S. Rogow:

Under the decision of the Eleventh Circuit, they can go directly to the Secretary if they cannot sue.

If a State raises Eleventh Amendment immunity, and if a State will not negotiate in good faith, the court of appeals said they could go directly to the Secretary, and that is true that the Congress could have kept the States out of Indian gaming altogether.

If that decision of the Eleventh Circuit is affirmed, including the remedy the Eleventh Circuit left, then the tribes could go directly to the Secretary of the Interior.

Is it clear that the tribes can go directly to the Secretary?

As I recall the Secretary is supposed to make his decision based on the negotiating positions of the parties, which precede that step in the legislation.

So there being no negotiating position, what makes you think that that section of the act subsists when the portion providing for suit against the States falls?

Bruce S. Rogow:

Justice Scalia, it is not clear that one can go directly to the Secretary.

That's what the court of appeals concluded--


Bruce S. Rogow:

--and indeed, the State has cross petitioned in this case complaining about that aspect.

Antonin Scalia:

So you don't necessarily... do you or do you not support the proposition that even if you can't sue the States, nonetheless the rest of the act stands and the Secretary can promulgate regulations?

Bruce S. Rogow:

Given the alternative, I support the position.

I thought you would.


What, may I ask, could be done if a State just refused, flat refused to negotiate?

Is there any contempt power against the State, or anything of that kind?

Bruce S. Rogow:

That is covered in the act, Justice O'Connor, and the tribe could then file the lawsuit that is envisioned under 27(d) against the State for failure to negotiate at all, and then the process would occur just as it would in this case where there was negotiation, but the tribe--

But that's all.