Legal Alert - Office of the Solicitor Issues Carcieri “Fix” Opinion
by Heidi McNeil Staudenmaier and Brian Daluiso
In response to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Carcieri v. Salazar, 555 U.S. 379 (2009), the Office of the Solicitor for the United States Department of the Interior issued a memorandum opinion on March 12, 2014, interpreting the phrase “under federal jurisdiction” in 25 U.S.C. § 479’s definition of “Indian.” The Court in Carcieri determined that to meet the first definition of “Indian” in § 479, a tribe had to have been “under federal jurisdiction” in 1934. The Court did not, however, address the specific meaning of the phrase “under federal jurisdiction.” After examining the text of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) and its legislative history, the Solicitor concluded that the phrase “under federal jurisdiction” is ambiguous, and Congress reserved the meaning of the phrase for the Department of the Interior to determine.