California Supreme Court allows Fair Political
Practices Commission lawsuit against Indian tribe
By Julia Cheever, Bay City News Service
December 22, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) - The California Supreme Court ruled
by a close 4-3 vote yesterday that a state agency can sue an Indian
tribe for allegedly failing to file prompt reports of millions
of dollars in political campaign contributions.
The court majority rejected arguments by the Palm Springs-based
Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians that it is immune from
being sued because it is a sovereign nation.
The court said that the U.S. Constitution's guarantee that states
can have a republican form of government allows for an exception
to the doctrine of sovereign immunity. Justice Ming Chin said
California is entitled to enforce its fair political campaign
laws by suing the tribe.
The decision was issued in San Francisco in a lawsuit filed in
Sacramento County Superior Court against the tribe by the state's
Fair Political Practices Commission.
The agency alleged the tribe failed to meet deadlines and other
requirements for reporting $8.5 million in contributions to political
campaigns for candidates and initiatives between 1998 and 2002.
The tribe, one of the richest in the state, has about 400 members
and owns 31,500 acres of land in the Palm Springs area, where
it runs two casinos.
Chin wrote in the majority opinion, "Allowing tribal members
to participate in our state electoral process while leaving the
state powerless to effectively guard against political corruption
puts the state in an untenable and indefensible position without
Chin emphasized that the immunity exception created by the ruling
was narrow and applies only to lawsuits filed by the FPPC against
The court majority upheld similar rulings by a Sacramento Superior
Court trial judge and a Court of Appeal panel.
Justice Carlos Moreno said in a dissent that it should be up
to Congress to make any changes in the doctrine of sovereign immunity.
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