Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, has introduced legislation to give federal courts broader powers of review over Indian courts, but a Ute tribal attorney said Monday the bill would interfere with tribal sovereignty.
The bill would amend the Indian Civil Rights Act, a document that serves much like a Bill of Rights on U.S. Indian reservations. Currently, under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, federal courts have little review over tribal courts.Hatch's bill would permit federal court review of cases involving civil rights violations once a person has sought appeals in tribal court, Hatch said in remarks in the Congressional Record.
For example, if a person seeking a decision on a case involving a violation of due process, after appealing the case in tribal courts, the person could seek a remedy in federal court.
Amending the bill would check civil rights "problems" on Indian reservations such as the 1987 firing of a Ute judge by the tribe's ruling Business Committee, the senator said.
But an attorney for the 3,000-member Ute Indian Tribe in eastern Utah said the bill "goes right to the heart of the spirit of self-determination" and the "tradition of sovereignty on Indian reservations."
"In the case of the Ute Tribe, the tribal constitution provides for review by the people of decisions made by the Business Committee," tribal attorney John Boyden Jr. said.
Tribal members could, for example, call for a referendum vote to review a Business Committee decision to intervene with a court decision involving civil rights, Boyden said.
"If this sort of provision is not taken into account, they (Congress) are mandating judicial review of tribal conduct rather than review by the people," Boyden said.
"It is going to put a great deal of confusion into the tribes as to who has the final say regarding tribal affairs," Boyden said.
Hatch's bill assumes that court review on reservations is the same as it is off Indian land. But that is not the case, since on the Ute reservation the people themselves have broad powers of review, Boyden said.