Tohono O’odham Nation v. State of Arizona

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Indian Law
  • Date Filed: 11-06-2015
  • Case #: 11-16811
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge M. Smith, Jr. for the Court; Circuit Judges Nelson and Reinhardt
  • Full Text Opinion

Obstacle preemption analysis calls for an examination of the federal statute as a whole and an identification of the purpose and intended effects of the statute to determine if a challenged state statute creates an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the objectives of Congress.

The Tohono O’odham Nation (the Nation) purchased a tract of land in unincorporated Maricopa County, Arizona, and filed a trust application with the Secretary of the Interior. If the Secretary placed the land in trust, the land would become part of the Nation’s reservation under the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Replacement Act (the Act). After the Secretary took the land into trust, Arizona passed House Bill 2534 (the H.B.), which would effectively enable the City of Glendale, Arizona, to annex the land and prevent the placement of the land in trust. The Nation filed suit, arguing that the Act preempted Arizona from passing H.B. 2534. More specifically, the Nation alleged obstacle preemption and argued that H.B. 2534 created “an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purpose and objectives of Congress,” set forth in the Act. The district court agreed with the Nation in that the Act preempted Arizona from passing H.B. 2534, and the Ninth Circuit supported the district court’s conclusion. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit held that the purpose and effect of the Act was to replace reservation lands that would lead to improved economic self-sufficiency and sustained use and also found that H.B. 2534 was passed by Arizona to prevent the accomplishment of the objectives of the Act, specifically to prevent the Secretary from taking the land into trust. The panel found that the passage of H.B. 2534 was clearly an obstacle to the Act and was therefore preempted. AFFIRMED.

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