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Supreme Court Win for Wyoming Farmers

Jun 25, 2018 | by William Perry Pendley

Appeals Court opinion vindicating the rights of rural Westerners allowed to stand.

DENVER, CO.  The Supreme Court of the United States today declined to hear the appeals of two Indian tribes to the Tenth Circuit’s December of 2017 opinion rejecting the tribes’ claims to jurisdiction over 1.48 million acres of Wyoming.  The Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation, represented by Mountain States Legal Foundation, had challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) 2013 decision to grant the Northern Arapahoe Tribe and the Eastern Shoshone Tribe—of the Wind River Indian Reservation— jurisdiction over large swaths of state and private land, including the town of Riverton.  Farm Bureau members who live, work, and own property in and near Riverton and who would be subject to tribal jurisdiction although they are not tribal members, argued the EPA’s order ignores more than one hundred years of actions by Congress, Wyoming, the Tribes, and various rulings by a host of federal and state courts.  In November of 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, ruled 2-1 against the EPA. The EPA, perhaps recognizing the wisdom of the Tenth Circuit’s decision, declined to sign onto the Tribes’ ill-fated petition to the Supreme Court.

  "We are pleased and gratified that the Supreme Court declined to review this decision," said William Perry Pendley president of Mountain States Legal Foundation.  "Judge Tymkovich issued a thoughtful and thorough opinion and took great care to dot every 'i' and cross every 't' to ensure the Tenth Circuit got it right.  At long last this matter is at an end."

In December 2008, the Tribes sought Tribe-as-State status under §301(d)(2) of the Clean Air Act, which provides an “express congressional delegation” to tribes of the EPA’s authority to regulate air quality on fee lands within the exterior boundaries of a reservation; however, the tribes used most of their 87-page application arguing for their jurisdiction over Riverton, a town sitting on land widely understood for over a hundred years to be outside the boundaries of the reservation.  The State of Wyoming, the Farm Bureau, and other entities opposed the application.

The Reservation, which is shared by the Tribes, was established in 1868.  In 1904, the Tribes signed an agreement with the federal government ceding 1,480,000 acres of land, which were to be opened for sale under the homestead, townsite, coal, and mineral land laws.  The agreement was entered into with the United States Indian Inspector in exchange for per capita payments to tribal members and capital improvement projects inside “the diminished reserve” or Reservation.  In 1905, Congress ratified the 1904 agreement.

In 1906, the ceded lands were opened for settlement by a Presidential Proclamation and allotments were sold to non-Indians in an area that today makes up Riverton.  In 1939, some unsold ceded lands were restored to the Reservation, but a significant portion was not.  Riverton is located wholly on lands ceded in the 1904 agreement and never restored to the Tribes. 

“Today was a big win for private property owners and the principle of self-government,” said Mountain States Legal Foundation attorney David McDonald. “In upholding the Tenth Circuit’s excellent opinion, the Supreme Court vindicated the rights of all Americans to be governed by their own laws and their own elected representatives.”

MSLF, created in 1977, is a nonprofit, public-interest legal foundation dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government, and the free enterprise system.  Its offices are in suburban Denver, Colorado.

For more information:  Wyoming Farm Bureau Federation v. Environmental Protection Agency



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