Upstate Citizens lament Supreme Court decision

Published Dec 1, 2017 at 4:00pm

The Supreme Court of the United States this week denied petitions for certiorari filed by the citizen group Upstate Citizens for Equality, Inc. (UCE) and the Town of Vernon challenging the federal government’s power to take sovereign state land into trust for an Indian tribe. While you probably don’t know or care about land being taken into trust for the Oneida Indian Nation (OIN), you have already been adversely affected by this process.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented in writing the denial of these petitions by the Court, and his words are instructive. He writes, “Under our precedents, Congress has thus obtained the power to take any state land and strip the State of almost all sovereign power over it ‘for the purpose of providing land for Indians.’” He continues, “This means Congress could reduce a State to near nonexistence by taking all land within its borders and declaring it sovereign Indian territory.”

Thomas closed his dissent thus: “When our precedents permit such an absurd result, something has gone seriously awry. It is time to fix our error. We should have granted certiorari to reexamine our Indian Commerce Clause precedents, instead of standing idly by as Congress, the Executive, and the lower courts stray further and further from the Constitution.”

From around 1993 until 2005, the year of the City of Sherrill’s victory against the OIN in the Supreme Court, the OIN illegally and blatantly purchased land on the open market and unilaterally declared it non-taxable sovereign Indian land in complete violation of federal law. Our federal representatives, the Department of Interior, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs did and said nothing, and since the 2013 “Settlement Agreement” between the OIN, State, and county governments, the OIN is doing it yet again.

The Yellow Brick Road Casino in Chittenango, N.Y. owned by the OIN is operating in violation of federal law because it is not on land that is held in trust by the federal government as will the Bridgeport casino when it opens.

Our congressional representative Claudia Tenney understands this. She also understands that the OIN is not and does not wish to be part of our communities. She understands that it detests competition and claims immunity from our taxes, laws, and regulations as it injects itself into our elections, and legal system in order to increase its profitability by crushing competition and free enterprise. Sadly, while she is finally in a position to do something about this situation, a situation she described as “a tragedy of epic proportions for the people of Central New York” in a June 2013 letter to her colleagues in the State legislature urging them to vote against the 2013 Agreement, she now chooses to do nothing.

— Scott E. Peterman, vice president, Upstate Citizens for Equality, Canastota