treaties

Herrera v. Wyoming is a case of dueling Supreme Court precedent.

Clayvin Herrera, a member of the Crow tribe, shot an elk in Big Horn National Forest in Wyoming. He was charged with hunting without a license during a closed season. Herrera claims that an 1868 treaty giving the Crow the right to hunt on the “unoccupied lands of the United States” allowed him to hunt on this land.

In Herrera v. Wyoming the Supreme Court will decide whether Wyoming's admission to the Union or the establishment of the Big Horn National Forest abrogated the Crow’s treaty right to hunt in Big Horn National Forest.

Despite the fact that Washington v. United States wasn’t really decided and technically only affects one state, it is still an interesting case because Washington argues the lower court decision will cost it billions of dollars. Also, this decision comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s recent grant in Murphy v. Royal. In this case the Tenth Circuit held that for the purpose of criminal prosecutions half of Oklahoma may be located on an Indian Reservation.  

In Washington v. United States the Supreme Court was supposed to decide whether a “fishing clause” in a treaty guarantees “that the number of fish would always be sufficient to provide a ‘moderate living’ to the tribes.” Instead the Court affirmed the Ninth Circuit ruling by an equally divide vote. Whenever the Supreme Court deadlocks in a case the lower court decision stands but it doesn’t have precedential value. Justice Kennedy was recused in this case.

In the mid-1800s Indian tribes in the Pacific Northwest entered into treaties guaranteeing them a right to off-reservation fishing. In Washington v. United States the Supreme Court will decide whether the “fishing clause” guarantees “that the number of fish would always be sufficient to provide a ‘moderate living’ to the tribes.”

The “fishing clause” of the Stevens Treaties guaranteed “the right of taking fish, at all usual and accustomed grounds and stations . . . in common with all citizens of the Territory.” In 2001 the United States and a number of tribes sued Washington State claiming that it violated the treaty by building culverts that prevented salmon for reproducing leading to the salmon supply significantly plummeting.