In Massachusetts, a federal judge has declined to reconsider his summer verdict in the case of Littlefield v Department Of The Interior despite a direct appeal from the United States Department Of Justice.
According to a report from the Taunton Daily Gazette newspaper, July saw Judge William Young from the United States District Court For The District Of Massachusetts rule against the federal government’s 2015 land-into-trust decision for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe. The action had been initiated by a group of local property owners opposed to the land grant of 321 acres and the planned subsequent construction of the $1 billion First Light Casino And Resort near the city of Taunton.
In his ruling, Young declared that the Department Of The Interior had lacked the authority to approve the land-into-trust application from the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe as the tribe had not been federally recognized at the time the landmark 1934 Indian Reorganization Act was passed. He cited the 2009 decision from the United States Supreme Court in the case of Carcieri v Salazar and claimed that tribes could only be eligible for a reservation if they had held an official relationship with the federal government at the time this legislation was ratified.
The federal government immediately appealed this decision while the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which had not been named as a defendant in the initial action, subsequently asked and was granted the right to be included in the case.
Far from being downhearted by Young’s decision not to reconsider his original verdict, Cedric Cromwell, Chairman for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, told the Taunton Daily Gazette that the ruling should not be interpreted as a victory for the two dozen plaintiffs.
“The United States has a full opportunity here to further address our request to have our land in trust and we expect any setback caused by the court’s initial decision will be temporary,” said Crowmell. “
Cromwell declared that the “legal path forward” afforded by Young’s ruling now makes it possible for the government to argue the legitimacy of its 2015 land-into-trust decision based on a different category of legal criteria than previously cited by the plaintiffs. He stated that it is now “clear” that the Department Of The Interior “is free and fully able to consider (the criteria) under the first part of the statute” dealing specifically with the government’s authority to take land into trust “for Indian tribes under federal jurisdiction”
Despite Cromwell’s optimism, lead plaintiff Michelle Littlefield, who has explained that she is ready to take her case all the way to the United States Supreme Court if necessary, declared that she was happy with Young’s most recent decision as it affirmed her belief that her argument will stand.
“This reaffirms what we’ve said all along,” Littlefield told the newspaper.