South Carolina v. Catawba Indian Tribe, Inc.

PETITIONER: South Carolina
RESPONDENT: Catawba Indian Tribe, Inc.
LOCATION: Hardwick's Apartment

DOCKET NO.: 84-782
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 476 US 498 (1986)
ARGUED: Dec 12, 1985
DECIDED: Jun 02, 1986

Don Brantley Miller - on behalf of the Respondents
James D. St. Clair - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case


Media for South Carolina v. Catawba Indian Tribe, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 12, 1985 in South Carolina v. Catawba Indian Tribe, Inc.

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. St. Clair, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

James D. St. Clair:

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

This is an Eastern Indian land claim case, under the commonly known or called statute, the Non-Intercourse Act, the first part of which was 1790 and there were sections or additions thereafter from time to time.

The land here in question consists of approximately 144,000 acres in the State of South Carolina embodying the city of Rock Hill, the town of Fort Mill and a number of other smaller communities in Lancaster and York Counties and perhaps even part of Chester County.

The case arises despite the fact that this claim is made in the face of a Termination Act, so-called, Catawba Termination Act of 1959.

It seems important that in order to interpret that act as it is applicable or not to the facts of this case, that we should address perhaps the congressional policy that prevailed in the late 1950's and '60s, the late 1950's and early 1960's with respect to the status of Indians and Indian tribes and the larger society in this country.

During those period of years, sometimes referred as the termination period, it was the express policy of the Congress to eliminate the Indian reservations, to eliminate the difference between Indians, tribal Indians and Indian tribes in the larger society, and that Congress directed effective steps to be sure that that elimination ultimately was culminated.

Pursuant to that policy the House of Representatives directed that a report after investigation be made with respect to what tribes could be considered to be appropriate for assimilation in the larger society.

The Catawba Indians, who are the respondents in this case, were early on recognized as a group that was so advanced that they could safely be assimilated into the larger society.

Pursuant thereto, the Congress enacted the so-called Catawba Termination Act as one of 12 termination acts enacted by Congress during this period of time.

The specific legislative history is also important to the construction to be applied to the Termination Act as it pertains to the facts of this case.

In addition to being designated as ready for assimilation, the Catawbas themselves had requested that they be relieved from the burden of federal supervision as they then viewed it, and participated by resolution and otherwise in fostering legislation that they felt was oppressive to them under the circumstances.

Ultimately the congressmen from that area, Congressmen Temple, introduced an act which became ultimately the Termination Act for the Catawbas, but only after reviewing it with the tribe, having the tribe approve the concept of terminating the federal relationship with their group, and ultimately after the Act was passed by the Congress, an explanation was sent to the Catawbas, and that explanation made it very clear that the relationship between the federal government and the Catawbas was at an end.

Perhaps it might be worth our while to look at the joint appendix on page 137.

This is an explanation that was sent to the Catawba Indians, and I suggest it contains not only the intent behind the statute but also underlines the Catawba Indians' understanding of what was happening.

In the middle of page 137, this explanation sent to the Catawbas states, Section 5 revokes the tribal constitution, and that in fact did happen in 1962, which means that the tribe will no longer exist as a federally recognized organization.

In addition, just as the tribe no longer will be a legal entity, it shall be governed by federal laws which refer to tribes so the individual members will no longer be subject to laws which apply only to Indians.

Nothing in the Act prohibits those interested in organizing under State law to carry on any of the non-governmental activities of the group.

I submit it would be difficult to express in the English language any intention on the part of Congress in the understanding on the part of the Catawbas that their relationship with the federal government was totally and completely terminated without question.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. St. Clair, is there a common law restraint against alienation by Indian tribes in their tribal lands?

James D. St. Clair:

I think, Justice O'Connor, I think in Oneida 2, this Court recently discussed an underlying common law.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

That was my understanding, and so what I want to ask you is, do you think the statute here, Section 935, affected the common law restraints against alienation, because by its terms it says that statutes of the United States that affect Indians will be inapplicable.

Now, what about any common law restraint?

James D. St. Clair:

If Your Honor please, I think the answer is as follows.

There indeed is recognized a common law with respect to limitations on transfers of aboriginal titles by Indians.

It's the law of the United States, incidentally.

That is embodied in the Non-Intercourse Acts, so it's clear from a point of view of what Congress had in mind, that the Non-Intercourse Acts embody now the common law as it relates to these Indians, no longer shall be applicable because the statute embodying that common law is ruled out of having any application.

And, may I read to you briefly what some of the Congressmen thought about what they were doing at this time.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, is your response that Section 935, even though it says, only statutes of the United States, means something more than that?

James D. St. Clair:

Yes, in this case, because the statute that we're interested in embodies and is a codification of the common law, so to in effect repeal that statute, you make that common law, what's embodied in that statute, non-applicable and clearly Congress had that in mind.