Attorneys for Seneca County respond to Cayuga Nation interpretation of major court ruling

Attorneys for Seneca County have responded after the Cayuga Nation interpreted a 5-4 Supreme Court decision to verify their legal argument in open, active litigation.

In early-July Clint Halftown said the 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court confirmed that the tribal group has authority over lands it owns in Cayuga and Seneca counties.

“This decision confirms what the Cayuga Nation has been saying for all these years: our historic reservation continues to exist and can only be disestablished by Congressional action,” said Halftown at the time. “It sends the most powerful of all messages to state and federal authorities who have brazenly and consistently challenged the status of our reservation. It is the greatest victory our people could have hoped for in this case and it is a victory for all Indian nations.”




The court ruled that a large chunk of Oklahoma remains a reservation and that local prosecutors do not have authority to pursue criminal cases against American Indian defendants.

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the decision.

Meanwhile, Seneca County responded on Monday with its own interpretation of the court ruling.

In a letter filed with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday, July 17th, Bond Shoeneck and King, legal counsel for Seneca County contradicts the position taken by Halftown and the Nation.

“The issue in this appeal is different. Seneca County has argued that the Cayuga Nation does not enjoy immunity from suit with respect to the underlying tax foreclosure proceedings, because the dispute concerns real property located within the sovereign jurisdiction of New York State and its municipalities, not of the Cayuga Nation. The Cayuga Nation cannot escape the impact of City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, 544 U.S. 197 (2005), which makes clear that it cannot “unilaterally revive its ancient sovereignty, in whole or in part, over the parcels at issue,” regardless of whether or not the Cayuga Nation’s reservation was disestablished in accordance with law,” they said in the letter.

“The McGirt v Oklahoma decision does not ‘confirm’ any assertion that the CIN has unfettered rights over lands it owns in Cayuga and Seneca counties, and such a claim is wholly beyond the scope of the recent ruling,” a press release from the County read.




The entire letter can be read below:

Dear Clerk Wolfe:

I write on behalf of Appellant Seneca County in the above-captioned appeal, and in response to Appellee’s Rule 28(j) letter dated July 14, 2020.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma (Ex. A to Appellee’s letter) is not relevant to this appeal. McGirt addressed the application of federal criminal law to treaty lands reserved for the Creek Nation in Oklahoma, which were allotted to individual Tribe members in the early twentieth century during the so-called “allotment era” and subsequently sold to non-Indians. See Ex. A at 1-6, 8-10. At issue was the Major Crimes Act, which requires certain serious offenses committed by Indians in “Indian country” (which includes “all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Government, notwithstanding the issuance of any patent”) to be tried in federal courts. See Ex. A at 1-3 (citing 18 U.S.C. §§ 1153(a), 1151(a)). The Court concluded that the crimes at issue were committed in “Indian country” because the Creek Nation’s reservation was never formally disestablished, even despite the allotments and subsequent sales to non-Indians.

The issue in this appeal is different. Seneca County has argued that the Cayuga Nation does not enjoy immunity from suit with respect to the underlying tax foreclosure proceedings, because the dispute concerns real property located within the sovereign jurisdiction of New York State and its municipalities, not of the Cayuga Nation. (Br. of Seneca Cnty. at 16-37, Doc. 41.) The Cayuga Nation cannot escape the impact of City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation, 544 U.S. 197 (2005), which makes clear that it cannot “unilaterally revive its ancient sovereignty, in whole or in part, over the parcels at issue,” regardless of whether or not the Cayuga Nation’s reservation was disestablished in accordance with law. See 544 U.S. at 202-203 (emphasis added); id. at 215 n. 9 (concluding that the Court need not decide the disestablishment issue to resolve the case). Thus, neither McGirt, nor the Cayuga Nation’s insistence that its reservation was never disestablished, changes the outcome of this case. The immovable property exception applies.

Respectfully submitted,

BOND, SCHOENECK & KING, PLLC