White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker

PETITIONER: White Mountain Apache Tribe
LOCATION: Supreme Court of Virginia

DOCKET NO.: 78-1177
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 448 US 136 (1980)
ARGUED: Jan 14, 1980
DECIDED: Jun 27, 1980

Elinor Hadley Stillman - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae
Ian A. Macpherson - on behalf of the Respondents
Michael J. Brown - on behalf of Petitioner White Mountain Apache Tribe
Neil Vincent Wake - on behalf of Petitioner Pinetop Logging Company

Facts of the case


Media for White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1980 (Part 2) in White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 14, 1980 (Part 1) in White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in White Mountain Apache Tribe against Tucson.

Mr. Wake, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready now.

Neil Vincent Wake:

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

This case deals with the permissibility of certain State taxation concerning use of tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs roads on the reservation when use is made by a non-Indian logger as a part of a tribal forestry enterprise.

The White Mountain Apache Tribe and its logger Pinetop Logging Company, actually one of its loggers, submits that the State taxes are barred by two separate principles of Federal law.

The first ground for a claim of defense to these taxes is that they are preempted by comprehensive Federal regulation of the fields of managing and harvesting Indian reservation timber.

Our second defense is the doctrine that State laws may not be applied even to non-Indians with respect to their dealings with Indians on the reservation where to do so would infringe on the tribal self-government.

William H. Rehnquist:

I am not saying it is entirely immaterial, but it isn't in the case.

Neil Vincent Wake:

Yes, it is, Your Honor.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Is there any reason why you didn't take it as an appeal?

Neil Vincent Wake:

I considered either option available, and was not entirely sure, and filed to serve petition.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Well --

Neil Vincent Wake:

My co-counsel Mr. Michael Brown will address himself to the claim of infringement of tribal self-government.

The facts upon which this case arised can be stated summarily as follows.

Over a hundred years ago President Grant set aside a reservation for the White Mountain Apaches in a remote and mountainous part of Arizona.

Virtually the only significant resource on that reservation is the timber that grows in the mountains.

Fortunately for this tribe, that resource holds out the potential for a perpetually renewable resource if wisely managed.

And, indeed, the tribal timber enterprise is the principal financial support for the entire tribal government in all other tribal programs.

In addition, the tribal timber enterprise is a major on-reservation employer of members of the tribe.

Obviously an essential part of the program of harvesting this timber is getting the trees from off the mountain down to the tribal mill in White River, Arizona.

That process requires the building and the maintenance of an extensive road system throughout the reservation and, indeed, there are literally thousands of miles of roads throughout this reservation.

Most of these roads, almost all of these roads are built and maintained by the tribe itself either directly or through its loggers.

I have brought with me and intend to submit to the Clerk's Office for illustrative purposes only, the most recent U.S. Geological Survey map of the reservation which gives some indication of the extent of the road system that is to be found thereon.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

But do they use the State road to some degree?

Neil Vincent Wake:

Your Honor, the loggers have occasion to cross the State roads and to use them from time to time and, indeed, the Pinetop Logging Company keeps precise records of all of its use of State roads and it pays taxes with respect to those uses.

This lawsuit does not involve an attempt by the State of Arizona to obtain tax payments with respect to the use of its own roads that it owns or builds or maintains or polices.

Rather, this lawsuit has to do with intent by the State of Arizona to derive windfall profits for the benefit of its State road system, not from the use of those roads but from the use of wholly different roads which are built and maintained and owned solely by the tribe and by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

William H. Rehnquist:

Well, you don't contend, do you, as a matter of general tax apportionment law that a State could not exact a license fee for the use of a vehicle and devote the proceeds of that tax to maintenance of roads and base it on the value of the vehicle; and that the owner of a vehicle could nonetheless say, well, I only drive my car to church on Sunday, so although your tax would come out to be computed $100 I am paying you $3, which I think is the value that I use your road.

Neil Vincent Wake:

Your Honor, we certainly do not make that contention and the principles to which you refer are general principles of municipal and public law with respect to taxing authorities of various taxing entities.

What we are discussing in this case is a different body of law which is a body of Federal law which has to do with when a specific congressional regulatory scheme dealing with specific subject matters preempts interfering State laws.