Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida


When it came to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and Native American casinos in Florida, Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida (1996) said states have sovereign immunity.

Here’s the facts of this case. The Seminole tribe of Florida (Petitioner) sued the state of florida (Respondent) when it came to preventing a casino from being built on a reservation. The Seminoles claimed Florida violated the Gaming Regulatory Act, which allows gaming on reservations.

The Supreme Court addressed this issue: Does the 11th Amendment provide immunity from the Seminole lawsuit?

Here’s the ruling of the Supreme Court: While running contrary to the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Congress cannot abrogate state sovereignty under the Indian Commerce Clause; furthermore, the doctrine of Ex Parte Young doesn’t apply in this case.

When it comes to the US Constitution, Native Americans are an interesting case. Basically, they’re not natural born citizens within the meaning of the 14th Amendment. Because of this ambiguity in law, Native Americans were given citizenship through the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924.

The citizenship of Native Americans resembles that of the US territory citizens. As with Native Americans, separate statutes had to be passed to give the people of the US territories citizenship, but Native Americans and US territory people are not citizens within the meaning of the US Constitution; that is, Native American citizenship resembles the citizenship of Puerto Ricans, Guam citizens, and Samoa citizens. As with these citizenship statutes, these people get passports, driver licenses, and other rights.

In the past, rather than extend the benefits of US citizenship, the great Chief Justice John Marshall degraded Native Americans. In his opinion in Johnson v. MacIntosh, he used racist language like “savages” to refer to Native Americans as if to not give the impression of them as people or citizens. Marshall didn’t want to extend property rights to Native Americans as citizens because that would of stopped the illegal taking of Indian lands by the US government. In time, however, the benefits and rights of citizenship were extended to Native Americans.

Similarly, Native American citizenship resembles the situation of English ambassador’s children in law. Neither the children of ambassadors or Native Americans can gain citizenship under the 14th Amendment. Basically, no natural born citizenship exists for the children born of Native Americans or the children born of ambassadors in the US. The Exclusionary cases of the 1900s addressed this issue.

Interestingly, President Donald Trump wants to end birthright citizenship. Basically, he feels citizenship shouldn’t be granted to the children of undocumented immigrants in the USA. President Trump would have to pass legislation or an executive order to resolve this issue.

By law, Native American reservations are considered sovereign nations. These reservations have their own jurisdictions. They have their own courts. They have their own governments, representation, lawyers, judges, etc. These Native reservations are considered sui genius which means of it’s own kind or class.

In fact, Native American reservations are not bound by constitutional law decisions. For example, reservations do not have to follow same sex marriage laws like the Obergefell decision. However, if a reservation chooses, it can adopt the law.

Essentially, the Indian Commerce Clause governs commerce on reservations. Basically, it deals with how commerce is conducted on Indian reservations. As a matter of fact, Indian commerce is specifically mentioned in Article 1 section 8 of the US Constitution.

Native reservation jurisdiction is fuzzy when it comes to its citizens. For instance, if you’re of Native American descent and not living on a reservation, you’re not covered by reservation jurisdiction; however, you would be covered by 14th Amendment. There are Native American citizenship cases which deal with this issue.

Overall, in this case, state sovereignty lived to fight another day. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act violated the 11th Amendment. Florida had sovereignty over Indian casinos.