US Supreme Court to Hear El Paso’s Tigua Indians Appeal

A nearly 30-year saga in Texas is approaching its end after the US Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal of El Paso’s Tigua Indians against a 2019 Court of Appeals ruling.

Granting Petition for Certiorari

The long-running fight between the tribe and the state is among the few cases the US Supreme Court agrees to decide – statistically between 2% and 4% of all requests for granting a petition for certiorari it receives. The Supreme Court is the last chance of the Tiguas and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of East Texas to keep their right to offer some form of gambling on their sovereign land.

The Supreme Court will consider whether to uphold the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2019, which stated that Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in El Paso had been offering bingo-style games against the law.

According to the 1987 Restoration Act, which re-established a trust relationship between the federal government and the two Indian tribes, all gaming activities which are prohibited by the State of Texas are “hereby prohibited on the reservation and on lands of the tribe.” Further, the Restoration Act holds provisions to ensure no civil or criminal action is launched against the State of Texas.

The Tiguas and the Coushatta, which argue the state has no jurisdiction to regulate legal and regulated bingo-style gambling on tribal lands, received support from the Justice Department before the US Supreme Court decision to hear their appeal.

Backed by The Justice Department

The Office of the Solicitor General stated in a brief to the US Supreme Court that courts had been wrong since the early 1990s in their rulings that the tribes could not offer some forms of gambling, excluded them from the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and impaired the uniformity of a federal regulatory scheme.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office stated in a brief the Justice Department was incorrect in its legal reasoning, noting that Congress could rectify the situation by passing a new law. But until then, the Restoration Act remains as “the most accurate reflection of congressional policy with respect to the two tribes within its scope.”

The tribes did not respond to the brief, but, according to their arguments in the appeal, it is not Congress, but the courts that should decide the fate of their gambling rights on tribal land. Seeking relief through Congress “does not counsel against this Court’s intervention,” as “no case involving a federal statute would warrant the Court’s review, since Congress would always be an available forum for redress.”

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