January 17, 2024 2 min read


New Mexico Supreme Court Settles Tribal Jurisdiction Dispute

A recent decision grants the jurisdiction of certain cases against tribal casinos in the hands of tribal courts

Federally recognized Native American tribes across the United States have established different laws, applicable to their lands. While such tribes have courts, in some cases, it is up to a state court to have the final word for rulings. This creates difficulties for the tribes and prolongs a process that can otherwise be resolved in tribal courts.

In a major win for tribes in New Mexico, a Supreme Court ruled in favor of granting tribal courts jurisdiction when it comes to cases related to property damage and personal injuries filed against Native American casinos, as announced by the Associated Press.

The ruling of the New Mexico Supreme Court came Tuesday and marks the end of a prolonged legal battle in which the tribes sought to protect their sovereignty in personal injury and property damage cases. The latest decision effectively protects New Mexico tribal casinos, by allowing cases filed against them to be reviewed by tribal courts and not state courts.

Throughout the years, there have been a number of cases that involved tribal casinos in New Mexico. One such case dates back a decade when a worker for an electric company filed a lawsuit against Pojoaque Pueblo’s casino, claiming he was injured during a delivery at the venue.

In the latest decision, the highest court in the state ruled that state courts can no longer rule on such cases. This otherwise means that state courts won’t have jurisdiction over cases filed against tribal casinos for personal injuries and property damages.

The Ruling Marks the End of a Long Battle

Richard Hughes, an attorney for Santa Ana and Santa Clara pueblos, praised the latest decision of the New Mexico Supreme Court. He explained that the recent ruling ensures that tribal courts will be able to rule in such cases. “We’ve been fighting state court jurisdiction over these cases for 20 years and so it’s the end of a long struggle to keep state courts out of determining tribal affairs,” explained Hughes.

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