In 1981, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Montana v. United States, severely restricting the ability of Indian Tribes to assume civil regulatory and adjudicatory jurisdiction over non-tribal members for activities taking place on non-Indian lands within Indian reservations. The Court in Montana stated that “it could readily agree” with the Court of Appeals’ holding that the tribe could regulate the conduct of non-member on tribal lands. Yet, twenty years later, the Court issued its opinion in Nevada v. Hicks holding that in certain circumstances, the jurisdiction of Indian tribes could also be limited even if the activities of the non-members took place on Indian-owned lands.
It has been almost twenty years since Hicks and because of the cryptic and fractured nature of that decision, the federal circuits are divided and still trying to figure out under what circumstances tribal civil jurisdiction over non-members should be restricted when these activities take place on Indian-owned lands.
In this Article, I argue that among all the possible interpretations of Hicks, the one adopted by the Ninth Circuit makes the most sense. Under that interpretation, the so-called Montana framework used to divest tribes of jurisdiction is not applicable to cases where a tribe has retained the right to exclude. I argue that Hicks can be reasonably conceptualized as endorsing the 9th Circuit methodology. However, I also argue that Hicks should have been decided as a state jurisdiction cases and not a tribal divestiture of inherent sovereignty case. Re-imagining Hicks as a state jurisdiction case would not have changed the outcome but would have avoided the last twenty years of confusion surrounding how Hicks should be interpreted.
Skibine, Alexander Tallchief, "The Tribal Right to Exclude Non-Tribal Members from Indian-Owned Lands" (2020). Utah Law Faculty Scholarship. 218.