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Idaho v. Coeur d'Alene Tribe of Idaho

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 21227
Nos. 94-1474, 117 S. Ct. 2028/521 U.S. 261/(U.S., 06/23/1997)

The Court holds that the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution bars the Coeur d'Alene Tribe's suit against Idaho and Idaho officials over title to submerged lands within the original boundaries of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation. The Court first holds that under well-established principles, the tribe and its members are subject to the Eleventh Amendment. The tribe's suit, accordingly, is barred by Idaho's Eleventh Amendment immunity unless it falls within the exception that the Court recognized in Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), for certain suits seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against stateofficers in their individual capacities. There are, in general, two instances where Young has been applied: where there is no state forum available to vindicate federal interests and when the case calls for the interpretation of federal law. In this case, there is neither warrant nor necessity to adopt the Young device to provide an adequate judicial forum for resolving the dispute between the tribe and the state. Idaho's courts are open to hear the case, and the state neither has nor claims immunity from their process or their binding judgment. Also, interpretation of federal law is the proprietary concern of state, as well as federal, courts. The course of the Court's case law indicates the wisdom and necessity of considering, when determining the applicability of the Eleventh Amendment, the real affront to a state of allowing a suit to proceed. The Court notes that the tribe has alleged an ongoing violation of its property rights in contravention of federal law and seeks prospective relief. An allegation of an ongoing violation of federal law where the requested relief is prospective is ordinarily sufficient to invoke the Young fiction. However, this case is unusual in that the tribe's suit is the functional equivalent of a quiet title action that implicates special sovereignty interests. The suit would diminish, even extinguish, the state's control over a vast reach of lands and waters long deemed by the state to be an integral part of its territory. In addition, relief would divest the state of its sovereign control over submerged lands, which have a unique status in the law and are infused with a public trust that the state itself is bound to respect. If the tribe were to prevail, Idaho's sovereign interest in its lands and waters would be affected in a degree fully as intrusive as almost any conceivable retroactive levy on funds in its treasury. Under these circumstances, the Young exception is inapplicable.

Justices O'Connor, Scalia, and Thomas, concurring, reject the majority's reasoning that federal courts determining whether to exercise jurisdiction over any suit against a state officer must engage in a case-specific analysis of whether a state forum is available to hear the dispute, what particular federal right the suit implicates, and whether special factors counsel hesitation in exercising jurisdiction. Justices Souter, Stevens, Ginsburg, and Breyer, dissenting, would hold that the tribe's suit falls squarely within the Young doctrine.

Counsel for Petitioners
Clive J. Strong, Deputy Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
State House, Boise ID 83720
(208) 334-2400

Counsel for Respondents
Raymond D. Givens
Givens, Pursley & Huntley
Park Place
277 N. 6th St., Ste. 200, Boise ID 83701
(208) 388-1200

Justice KENNEDY announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II-A, and III, and an opinion with respect to Parts II-B, II-C, and II-D, in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins.

Justice O'CONNOR, with whom Justice SCALIA and Justice THOMAS join, concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

Justice SOUTER, with whom Justice STEVENS, Justice GINSBURG, and Justice BREYER join, dissenting.