The U.S. Supreme Court could be sending a signal that it may review a case involving a Native American tribe that wants to build an off-reservation casino in Michigan.
The court Monday asked the U.S. solicitor general to weigh in on whether federal courts have the authority to hear lawsuits connected to federal Indian gaming law and whether tribes have immunity from such litigation.
A lower federal court ruled an Upper Peninsula tribe, the Bay Mills Indian Community, is immune, clearing the way for tribe to reopen a casino in another part of Michigan. The tribe tried to quietly open the casino in 2010. But the state took the tribe to court, claiming the Vanderbilt casino violated federal and state laws. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a federal judge's ruling ordering the closing the casino. The appeals court found that federal courts don't have jurisdiction if the casino is located on tribal land.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette believes the court’s request to the Obama administration is a sign that the Supreme Court may take the state’s appeal of the lower court ruling.
"Frankly we view the decision of the Sixth Circuit with a lot of skepticism," says Schuette, "And so, we think we have great grounds for appeal and an expectation of it coming our way.”
The Attorney General's office expects the U.S. solicitor general will respond to the U.S. Supreme Court's request by May. An office spokeswoman says the request is somewhat unusual, and may hint that the court may be interested in taking up the case.
If the high court decides to take up the case, its eventual decision could have far reaching effects, including on the effort to build a casino in downtown Lansing, which is another project being challenged in court by Michigan’s Attorney General.