U.S. Supreme Court rules against the state of Michigan in casino case

May 27, 2014

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court says Michigan can't block the opening of an American Indian casino.

  The high court on Monday disagreed with state officials who want to shutter the Bay Mills Indian Community's casino about 90 miles south of its Upper Peninsula reservation.
The high court on Monday disagreed with state officials who want to shutter the Bay Mills Indian Community's casino about 90 miles south of its Upper Peninsula reservation.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

The high court on Monday disagreed with state officials who want to shutter the Bay Mills Indian Community's casino about 90 miles south of its Upper Peninsula reservation. Michigan argues that the tribe opened the casino in 2010 without permission from the U.S. government and in violation of a state compact.

A federal judge agreed and issued an injunction ordering the casino closed in 2011. But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals threw the injunction out after ruling that the court lacked jurisdiction over some claims and that the tribe also has sovereign immunity.

The Supreme Court said in 5-4 ruling that the state's lawsuit against the casino is barred by tribal sovereign immunity.

The Bay Mills Indian Community issued this statement:

“Congress and the Supreme Court have long recognized that a State cannot interfere with an Indian tribe’s Sovereignty.  We are gratified that the Court reaffirmed that longstanding principle today.   Bay Mills, a federally recognized tribe, depends for its livelihood on revenues from gaming activities conducted in accordance with Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.  The Court’s decision affords proper deference to Congress’ judgment, and will ensure that tribes like Bay Mills can continue to fund education and perform other sovereign functions.”

But Michigan's Attorney General reads the decision differently.    Attorney General Bill Schuette issued this statement late this afternoon:

"The 5-4 decision upheld the injunctive power of states to sue tribal leaders to shut down illegal casinos, and reaffirmed the states’ authority to bring criminal charges against anyone engaging in illegal gaming on state lands.”

The ruling in the Bay Mills case may have broader implications in Michigan.  

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians wants to build a casino in downtown Lansing.  The state has opposed that project in much the same way it has opposed the Bay Mills tribe.  

The Sault Ste. Marie Tribe issued this statement after today's ruling:

“The U.S. Supreme Court ruling sends another clear signal that the Sault Tribe is within our rights and federal law to move forward on our Lansing  casino, which will create more than 1,500 good jobs  for Mid Michigan, and millions of dollars in new revenues for greater Lansing and the entire state.”  The tribe plans to review today's ruling to see how it may affect its next steps.