Tonasket v. Washington

RESPONDENT: Washington
LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 71-1031
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: Washington Supreme Court

CITATION: 411 US 451 (1973)
ARGUED: Dec 12, 1972 / Dec 13, 1972
DECIDED: Apr 24, 1973

Alvin J. Ziontz - for Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation et al. as amici curiae
Robert L. Pirtle - for the appellant
Slade Gorton - Attorney General of Washington, for the appellees

Facts of the case


Media for Tonasket v. Washington

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 13, 1972 in Tonasket v. Washington

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 12, 1972 in Tonasket v. Washington

Warren E. Burger:

Mr. Pirtle, you may proceed.

Robert L. Pirtle:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

I’m Robert Pirtle, attorney for the appellant in this case.

This case comes to Court on appeal from the Supreme Court of the State of Washington.

Part of the jurisdiction was noted on June 12, 1972.

The facts in this case are relatively simple although complicated somewhat by later enacted legislation both by the State of Washington, the Colville Confederated Tribes and by later activities of the State and the appellant and the tribes and the Federal Government.

We’ll begin here with the thorough recognition that Washington is Public Law 83-280 State.

That is pursuant to that Act, it has taken jurisdiction, certain jurisdiction over Indians and Indian reservations.

The reservation here is the Colville reservation in Eastern Washington comprising some 1.3 million acres.

It is governed by a 14-member tribal council under a Constitution of by-laws approved by the Federal Government.

Leonard Tonasket, the appellant here is a full-blood Indian.

He is a direct descendant of Chief Tonasket of the Okanogan Band.

In 1964, he borrowed some $6,000 of federally restricted funds with which to build a store on his trust allotment inside the reservation.

That land was specifically approved by the Federal Government.

He made and additional loan of $800 to with which to purchase cigarette inventory.

That loan was also a federally restricted funds again approved by the Federal Government.

He operated his store selling cigarettes and sundries and Indian artifacts and clothing as a trader on the reservation but without a federal trader’s license.

He did not collect tax for the State of Washington nor for the tribe at that time.

The State of Washington arrested him in 1967 and seized his cigarette inventory leaving the rest of his inventory intact.

He then began this action inequity seeking a declaratory judgment as to his rights to make sales in the reservation on his trust land.

Potter Stewart:

Is this case involved in a claim by the State of Washington only of the power to collect the taxes on sales to non-Indians or does it involve the claim generally on all sales?

I couldn’t -- I wasn’t sure of that after reading the brief.

Robert L. Pirtle:

I can clarify that for you, Your Honor.

The State Supreme Court ruled that Public Law 83-280 specifically granted the State complete jurisdiction over Indian trading with no exceptions.

Now, the State of Washington in its briefs in this case is willing to concede that the State has no jurisdiction over trade with respect to Indians.

Potter Stewart:

That’s what I understood to say.

Robert L. Pirtle:

But that’s not what the decision says.

Potter Stewart:

Well, that’s what caused my confusion.

Robert L. Pirtle:

I can understand that, Your Honor.

Warren E. Burger:

I suppose buying a carton of cigarettes, an Indian selling a carton to another Indian is commerce within the Indian tribe, isn’t it?