The Supreme Court ruled on Friday in favor of granting $ 500 million to Native American Indian tribes in Alaska under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, instead of distributing benefits more widely among Native American tribes, the Associated Press reported.
The judges decided 6-3 to send the relief package to the natives of Alaska after a debate over whether they counted as “Indian tribes” because they were for-profit companies that provide benefits and social services to more than 100,000 Alaskan natives.
After the CARES Act was passed, three Native American groups filed a lawsuit to prevent Native Alaskan corporations from receiving the money. They argued that aid belongs to the tribes which are sovereign governments and not to corporations.
For more Associated Press reporting, see below.
The broad pandemic contingency plan was adopted last year and promulgated by then-President Donald Trump. The $ 2.2 trillion legislation earmarked $ 8 billion for “tribal governments” to cover expenses related to the pandemic.
“The Court now affirms what the federal government has maintained for almost half a century: the NCAs are Indian tribes,” Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote on behalf of a group of members both liberal and conservative. from the courtyard.
Sotomayor and dissenting Judge Neil Gorsuch argued over the wording of the CARES Act, with Sotomayor at one point comparing it to a poorly constructed restaurant advertisement.
If the restaurant offers “50% off any meat, vegetable or seafood dish, including ceviche, which is cooked,” the best ad reading, she said, is that ” cooked ”does not apply to ceviche, a raw fish dish, but this ceviche is still 50% off. A different reading would make the ceviche a “red herring,” she continued.
Gorsuch, who in an argument once revealed his preference for turmeric in his steak, called the example “a bit lacking”. He then cited two different newspaper articles on the ceviche. He was joined in his dissent by Justices Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan.
The case is significant not only because of the amount of money it involves, but also because Native Americans and Alaska Natives have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. The Trump and Biden administrations both agreed that businesses should be treated like Indian tribes and that doing it differently would be a radical departure from the status quo.
In a statement after the ruling, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said the coalition of tribes that brought the lawsuit were disappointed.
“This case was never about funds. Instead, it was about maintaining tribal sovereignty and the status of federally recognized tribes,” he said, adding that the decision ” undermines federally recognized tribes and will have consequences far beyond the CARES Act allocation dollar. “
Part of the question for the Supreme Court was that Alaska is unique. Unlike the lower 48 states, Alaska’s native tribes are not located on reservations. Instead, native lands are owned by Alaska Native corporations established under a 1971 statute. For-profit corporations run oil, gas, mining, and other businesses. Alaskan natives own shares in companies, which provide a range of services from health and elderly care to educational support and housing assistance.
Associations representing indigenous societies applauded the decision.
“We are delighted to see the Court affirm the eligibility of Alaska Native societies for CARES Act funds to help our people and communities recover from the devastating effects of COVID-19. Alaska’s economy is only starting to recover, and these funds are needed to help our communities get back on their feet, ”the associations said.