United States v. Southern Ute Tribe or Band of Indians

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Southern Ute Tribe or Band of Indians
LOCATION: Charlotte-Mecklenburg School District

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 402 US 159 (1971)
ARGUED: Mar 01, 1971
DECIDED: Apr 26, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Southern Ute Tribe or Band of Indians

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 01, 1971 in United States v. Southern Ute Tribe or Band of Indians

Warren E. Burger:

-- in number 515, United States against the Southern Ute Tribe or Band of Indians.

Mr. Wallace you may proceed whenever you’re ready.

Lawrence G. Wallace:

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

The United States asked the Court to review this case because it seemed to us that the decision of the Court of Claims was inconsistent with and threatened to undermine clearly and repeatedly expressed the congressional policies regarding the jurisdiction and the business of the Indian Claims Commission.

From the outset, Congress has imposed explicit limitations on the Commission’s jurisdiction and has specified that it is a temporary tribunal whose business is to be completed within a fixed period of years.

It was originally established with a life span of 10 years and legislation enacted in 1946 and in a course of three, five-year extensions of the life of the Commission, Congress has shown increasing impatience to see the Commission’s business concluded.

We express this legislative history in our brief and the current state of the Commission’s business indicates that it is unlikely that, that business will be concluded when the present life of the Commission expires in April of 1972 but we feel in light of the congressional policies expressed, we are oblige to try to see that, that business is expedited.

We reproduced on page 12 of our petition for certiorari in this case some statistics about the present state of the Commission’s business.

At the time we filed the petition in August 1970, 158 Commission cases had proceeded to judgment at which 81 in addition to the present of case had been settled by compromise, and a 159 cases remained to be disposed of.

There has, to the best of our knowledge, been a changed in the status of only two cases in the intervening months, so that now 160 of the cases have proceeded to judgment and 157 remained to be disposed of.

How does this Court move into this, are we suppose to speed them up?

Lawrence G. Wallace:

Well, we are attempting in this case to enable the Commission’s business to be concluded in accordance with this congressional policy by asking this Court to review and the Court agreed to review the Court of Claims decision which seemed to ask to undermine, to jeopardize this congressional policy in two ways, Mr. Justice.

One is that it seemed to us to impair the finality of the judgment’s which have been arrived at in these cases particularly the judgment’s arrived at through the process of settlement and compromise.

We believe the Court of Claims failed to properly respect the principles of res judicata in this case.

And the second way in which this decision seemed to us to jeopardize these congressional policies was by impermissibly expanding the Commission’s jurisdiction beyond the statutory cut-off dates that Congress imposed on the Commission’s jurisdiction.

And if I may, I’ll proceed first to the res judicata issue in the case because under our view of the case that issue should be dispositive of the case in this Court.

Now, there’s a lengthy background, historical background which I think need not be reviewed in detail, I have asked the clerk to distribute a map to each of the Justices which may illuminate a little bit just what we’re talking about here relative to the res judicata issue.

Much of the history was reviewed by this Court in a decision in volume 330 U.S. written by Mr. Justice Black called the Confederated Bands of Ute Indians against the United States.

It’s 330 U.S. 169.

It was there noted that in 1868, a reservation was established by treaty arrangement with Confederated Bands of Utes which included all of the Ute Indians and that reservation was the entire large rectangular area on this map bordered in red and also in orange at one point.

And the treaty specified that any change in the reservation must be approved by three quarters of the males of the entire Confederated Bands of Utes.

The first change that took place was in 1874, the so-called Brunot Cession which is not in dispute in the present case and that ceded to the United States the area, the rectangular area marked off in yellow-orange crayon in our map.

And remaining after the Brunot Cession which was approved by three quarters of the males of the entire Confederated Bands was the rest of the reservation which was all one undifferentiated Ute reservation at the time as it had been under the 1868 legislation.

The map that we have used includes numbers on it so-called Royce numbers which were later applied by Charles Royce who drew up this map.

This is a copy of Charles Royce’s map drawn in 1896 but at the time, there was no such thing as Royce Areas there was only the one undifferentiated Ute Reservation.

Then by an agreement reached in 1880 as a result of the massacre which occurred at the Meeker Agency in the northern portion of the reservation and this too was reviewed in this Court’s previous case.

There was in effect a forced sale of this entire reservation to the United States and the language of the 1880 agreement ceded the reservation to the United States.

We have it reproduced in our brief in the appendix to our brief the legislation which is found in volume 21 of the statutes.

It was an agreement between the Confederated Bands of Utes which include the respondents in this case and the United States.

And on page 44 of our brief, we find the relevant language of the chiefs and headmen, I'm reading the last full paragraph now of the Confederated Bands, agree to use their best efforts to procure the consent, had to be consent of three quarters of the males to cede to the United States all the territory of the present Ute Reservation in Colorado with the exception of provisions for settlement by individual Indians in severalty and in the case of the Utes in the southern portion that settlement was to be made along the La Plata River in Colorado which is the area shaded in green on our map and if there was insufficient land there for the allotments in severalty to the individual Indians then they were to be settled under the La Plate River and it's vicinity in New Mexico.