Comanches Look to the Supreme Court

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A December 2018 decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has left the Comanche Nation with one option: petition to the Supreme Court of the United States. The case stems from a land dispute over a casino between Comanche Nation and Chickasaw Nation. In January 2017, the Bureau of Indian Affairs had given land in trust to Chickasaw Nation for a casino near Terral, Oklahoma, but the Comanches, displeased, filed suit on the grounds that the federal agency had erred by “fail[ing] to determine that the Chickasaw Nation ‘exercised governmental authority’ over the property before the acquisition.”¹

The land was approved on the last day of the Obama Administration, and the Trump Administration did not then deliver the notice to the Comanches until July 2017. This, however, did not stop Chickasaw Nation from breaking ground on their new casino only 10 miles from Comanche land and 45 miles from Red-River casino, owned by the Comanche Nation.

Richard Grellner, of RJG Law, PLLC, represents Comanche Nation. After the casino opened in March 2018, Grellner and the Comanches argued that they were not properly consulted. The Comanches claim that “revenues at Red River [would] fall 25 percent as a result of the new development;”² but, the 10th Circuit Court determined that economic concerns did not warrant consultation. Thee three-judge panel only “acknowledged that federal agencies are obliged to consult with ‘appropriate State and local agencies and Indian tribes’”³ However, they do not fully define ‘appropriate,’ ultimately leaving that decision to the Bureau.

The Chickasaw tribe is one of the richest and most powerful, owning and operating the most casinos in both Oklahoma and the United States. But, given their history in the region, Grellner argued that the Comanches deserved consultation. Additionally, several federal statutes including the NEPA, the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and the National Historic Preservation Act all used ‘appropriate’ in such a way that would require the Bureau to consult Comanche Nation.⁴

Both Grellner and Robert Tippeconnie, the Comanche’s secretary treasurer, were disappointed that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals completely overlooked these claims. The Interior Department finally opened up about their decision, claiming that the land had previously belonged to the Chickasaw Nation and therefore did not require consulting with the Comanches. Because the taking of the land had a clear objective of approving gaming, these statements go against Justice Elena Kagan’s ruling in a 2012 landmark case.⁵

The next step for Comanche Nation would be the Supreme Court which presents a whole new challenge. In order to get their case heard, four of the nine Supreme Court judges must sign on to the Comanche Nation’s writ of certiorari. Justice Kagan, as noted above, played a key role in a case that allows the Comanche’s lawsuit to proceed; and, Justice Gorsuch is well-educated on Indian-law concerns. Regardless, thousands of cases are denied every year by the Supreme Court meaning the Comanche Nation has a tough road to get their case heard.

Richard James Grellner, attorney at law and owner of RJG Law, PLLC, specializes in tribal law in Oklahoma. RJG Law specializes in intra-tribal relationships as well as those existing between tribes and the federal government, state governments, and non-Indian corporations.

Property rights and business contracts are popular areas of dispute, but our Oklahoma tribal law firm has worked with several tribes including the Otoe-Missouria, Apache Tribe of Oklahoma, Comanche Nation, Eastern Shawnee Tribe and more on a wide variety of legal concerns.

Interested in learning more about how Richard Grellner and the team at RJG Law can help you?

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  1. Ellis, Randy., “Chickasaw casino near Terral gets green light from federal appellate court,” NewsOK, December 15, 2018.
  2. “Comache Nation loses bid to derail rival tribe’s casino,” IndianZ, December 17, 2018.
  3. Rogers, David., “Next ride for angry Comanche: The Supreme Court?,” Politico, December 21, 2018.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.


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