Monday, June 30, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court on Wednesday slashed the $2.5 billion punitive damages award in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster to $500 million. The court ruled that victims of the worst oil spill in U.S. history may collect punitive damages from Exxon Mobil Corp., but not as much as a federal appeals court determined.
Justice David Souter wrote for the court that punitive damages may not exceed what the company already paid to compensate victims for economic losses, about $500 million compensation.
Souter said a penalty should be "reasonably predictable" in its severity.
Exxon asked the high court to reject the punitive damages judgment, saying it already has spent $3.4 billion in response to the accident that fouled 1,200 miles of Alaska coastline.
A jury decided Exxon should pay $5 billion in punitive damages. A federal appeals court cut that verdict in half in 1994.
The Supreme Court divided on its decision, 5-3, with Justice Samuel Alito taking no part in the case because he owns Exxon stock.
Exxon has fought vigorously to reduce or erase the punitive damages verdict by a jury in Alaska four years ago for the accident that dumped 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound. The environmental disaster led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of seabirds and marine animals.
Nearly 33,000 Alaskans are in line to share in the award, about $15,000 a person. They would have collected $75,000 each under the $2.5 billion judgment.
In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens supported the $2.5 billion figure for punitive damages, saying Congress has chosen not to impose restrictions in such circumstances.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also dissented, saying the court was engaging in "lawmaking" by concluding that punitive damages may not exceed what the company already paid to compensate victims for economic losses.
"The new law made by the court should have been left to Congress," wrote Ginsburg. Justice Stephen Breyer made a similar point, opposing a rigid 1 to 1 ratio of punitive damages to victim compensation.
Writing for the majority, Souter said that traditionally, courts have accepted primary responsibility for reviewing punitive damages and "it is hard to see how the judiciary can wash its hands" of the problem by pointing to Congress for a solution.
A jury decided that the company should pay $5 billion in punitive damages. A federal appeals court cut that verdict in half.
The problem for the people, businesses and governments who waged the lengthy legal fight against Exxon is that the Supreme Court in recent years has become more receptive to limiting punitive damages awards. The Exxon Valdez case differs from the others in that it involves issues peculiar to laws governing accidents on the water.
Overall, Exxon has paid $3.4 billion in fines, penalties, cleanup costs, claims and other expenses resulting from the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
The commercial fishermen, Native Alaskans, landowners, businesses and local governments involved in the lawsuit have each received about $15,000 so far "for having their lives and livelihood destroyed and haven't received a dime of emotional-distress damages," their Supreme Court lawyer, Jeffrey Fisher, said when the court heard arguments in February.
In a hypertechnical distinction which the dissent found unpersuasive, Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices, Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas and Alito, distinguished between sales of fee land by non-Indians on the Reservation, over which the majority opined that Tribes have no regulatory authority, and activities by non-Indians on fee lands which may implicate a Tribe's sovereign interests and be subject to tribal regulation. According to the majority, since the discrimination claim “is tied specifically to the sale of the fee land” land alienated from tribal trust land and removed from tribal control the Tribe has no authority to regulate the terms upon which the land can be sold, even if those terms are discriminatory and favor non-Indians over Indians. Lacking authority to regulate fee land sales, the Tribe has no adjudicatory authority over claims based on such sales since a Tribe's adjudicatory authority cannot exceed its regulatory authority. Interestingly, however, because the majority expressly made clear that it was not addressing whether the Tribal Court had jurisdiction over the Longs’ breach of contract and bad faith claims (the Bank had not appealed those claims), that leaves the Tribal Court jury award of $750,000 to the Longs possibly open to be the subject of further proceedings.
Justice Ginsberg, joined by Justices Stevens, Souter and Breyer, dissented, finding the majority’s position “perplexing.” If the tribal court has jurisdiction over the Longs’ breach of contract and bad faith claims “that the Bank has broken its promise or acted deceptively in the land-financing transactions at issue” the dissent was hard pressed to understand why the Tribe could not likewise enforce its laws prohibiting discrimination arising out of those same transactions. In the view of the dissent, “the Longs case, at heart, is not about ‘the sale of fee land to non-Indian individuals,’ ‘[r]ather, this case is about the power of the Tribe to hold nonmembers like the Bank to a minimum standard of fairness when they voluntarily deal with tribal members.’”
Plains Commerce Bank is the first Indian law case since the addition of Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito to the Court. Although it is only one case, the opinion is disturbing in its resort to technicalities to chip away at tribal sovereignty and its willingness to ignore the Bank's lengthy and extensive dealings on the Reservation, including its successful use of the Tribal Court as a plaintiff in numerous other cases against tribe members. It is unclear what the long-term effects of the decision will be, but it is not a promising beginning to the Robert's era.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Re-published courtesy of Anchorage Daily News
By LISA DEMER firstname.lastname@example.org, Published: June 12th, 2008
The state of Alaska was in federal court in Anchorage on Wednesday, battling demands that it provide ballots and other election materials in Yup'ik as well as English to residents of the Bethel area.
Lawyers from the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who represent four Yup'ik elders and four tribal councils in Western Alaska say the need for precise written translations is clear. They are suing the state and the city of Bethel.
But lawyers for Bethel and the state say Yup'ik is not covered in that way by the federal Voting Rights Act. Poll workers in the area already help non-English speakers adequately, they say.
As evidence that current practices are not good enough, lawyers for the Yup'ik speakers asked a couple of poll workers to translate the language of a 2002 ballot initiative to create a gas pipeline development authority. The results were incomprehensible, Natalie Landreth, a lawyer in Anchorage with the Native American Rights Fund, told the judge.
"I would be careful to add that we are in no way criticizing the translators -- they are obviously talented people who have been asked to perform an impossible task, namely to translate a college level ballot into Yup'ik on the fly with no training, no glossary and no model ballot," Landreth wrote in a follow-up e-mail.
In the end, the case known as Nick v. Bethel may boil down to whether Yup'ik is a historically unwritten language. The state argues that would make it exempt from requirements for written translations.
NARF & ACLU lawyers for the elders and the tribal groups say the two governments are violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by failing to provide ballots and other materials in Yup'ik to voters who don't speak English well or at all.
Voters struggle especially to understand ballot measures that are often too complicated even for people who grew up speaking English. But other information needs to be translated too, such as voting instructions. As it is, people who speak mainly Yup'ik may not vote, because they are afraid of voting the wrong way, their lawyers say. READ FULL STORY
For Corey Bird, graduation marked the end of the hard work of high school. But it also marked the end of a battle to wear the feathers that represent his family and his Native American heritage.
FAYETTEVILLE - For every high school senior, graduation is a day they've anticipated for years. It's a day when they're surrounded by family members to celebrate and remember their accomplishments. For Purnell Swett senior Corey Bird, it was a chance to remember family members who are no longer with him. That’s why he wore two feathers on his robe when he walked across the stage.
It means a lot,” he said. “It's in remembrance of my mother and my grandfather, and it allows them to be here with me."
For Bird, graduation marked the end of the hard work of high school. But it also marked the end of a battle to wear the feathers that represent his family and his Native American heritage. Last month, principals told him he could be pulled from the graduation if he wore the feathers. Corey, supported by his father and family, choose instead to take a stand for the right to wear his feathers.
The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on June 5th sent a letter to Robeson County school officials expressing their concerns about a policy that would have prevented Corey Bird from wearing two eagle feathers on his graduation gown or cap.
Katherine Parker, legal director with ACLU North Carolina, said that school's " policy is bad and violates the rights of Corey and his father, Samuel Bird.
Steve Moore, senior staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund in Boulder, Colo., said other schools have struggled with this issue and have understood that permitting the wearing of the eagle feathers at graduation is not only good policy, “but the right thing to do from a human perspective.”
Both NARF and the ACLU urged the school district to allow Corey to wear his feathers. Corey's cousin Olivia also was battling for her right to wear three small eagle feathers on her graduation outfit. On June 13th, the Board of Education granted Corey and his cousin permission to wear them.
"I'm just so proud of my son that he stood up for what he believed in," Corey’s father Samuel said after the graduation. Bird graduated from Purnell Swett with honors.
NARF attorney Steve Moore stated that NARF will be working on a "resource kit" for Native students and their families that will provide information and resources to aide other students like Corey who run into struggles with wearing their eagle feathers and/or traditional regalia at their graduation ceremonies. The resource kit will be available through NARF's website in the near future.
NARF Still Seeking Donations of Items for Its 7th Annual Benefit Art Auction
NARF is still seeking donations for its 7th Annual Visions for the Future Art Auction to be held Friday, August 22, 2008 at La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The auction, held the night before Santa Fe Indian Market opens, is NARF's biggest special event of the year. Live, silent and online auctions are held where buyers from all over the country and world come to purchase artwork, jewelry, merchadise, travel get-aways and unique items all to help support our work to defend the rights of Native peoples. Last year, NARF was able to raise over $200,000 to support our legal and advocacy work for Native peoples at the auction.
This historic success was made possible through the generosity of artists, organizations, tribes, businesses and invididuals that donated items to the auction.We ask you to please consider donating any of the following items to support NARF's efforts to support its work for Native peoples:
- Native American Artwork
- Gift Certificates
- Travel/Resort Get-Aways
To learn more about the benefits of donating an item, please download our art and item donation information kit.
If you are ready to donate an item, simply fill out our Donation Pledge Form and return it to NARF.
Heartfelt Thanks to All the Artists, Businesses, Organizations & Individuals Who Have So Far Pledged Items to Our 7th Annual Visions for the Future Benefit Auction!
Artists: Brent Greenwood, Michael Horse, Terence Guardipee, Rance Hood, Eric Ginsberg, Na Na Ping, Amado Peña, Jessie Hummingbird, Kimberly MacLoud, Bunky Echo-Hawk, Eddie Morrison, Chris Pappan, Andrew Morrison, Michael Roan Horse, Hans Rose, Tennyson Reid, David Bernie, Diane Lucero, Shirely Miolla, Andrea Hill, Thayne Hake, Leonard Benari, Sybil Amber, Luz-Marie Lopez & Larry Fitzgerald
Businesses: Morongo Casino Resort & Spa, NAPT, Inn of the Anasazi, Towa Golf Club, Georgia O'Keefe Museum,The Message Company, Encantado Resort & Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino
Many more items are still needed, so please consider lending your support to the biggest night for Native rights and donate an item today!
Are You Looking For a Great Way to...
Become a Sponsor for NARF's Benefit Art Auction!
There are numerous benefits to becoming a sponsor for our 7th Annual Visions for the Future Benefit Art Auction. To learn more, please download our Visions for the Future Sponsor Opportunity Information. All sponsorships are 100% tax-deductible.
Many Thanks to Our Current Sponsors Who Include:
Table Mountain Rancheria
Mary Alice Johnston Trust
Thursday, June 5, 2008
For more on this story, read Native Graduate wins case; walks with feathers
*** PRESS RELEASE *** PRESS RELEASE *** PRESS RELEASE ***
ACLU of North Carolina and Native American Rights Fund Express Deep Concerns Over School’s Refusal to Allow Student to Wear Spiritual Attire at Graduation
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Thursday, June 5, 2008
CONTACT: Katherine Parker, Legal Director,Rebecca Headen, Racial Justice Project Director,
ACLU-NC, Raleigh 919-834-3466 ; Steve Moore, Senior Staff Attorney, Native American Rights Fund 303-447-8760
PEMBROKE The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina (ACLU-NC) and the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) today sent a letter to the Robeson County School District expressing concern over a school system policy for graduation attire that provides no exception for religious and/or spiritual beliefs, resulting in an unreasonable application to one student. That student is Corey Bird, a senior at Purnell Swett High School in Pembroke who is Lumbee and an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Tribe of South Dakota. Bird has been told by school officials that school policy does not permit him to wear an eagle feather during graduation on June 13.
The organizations became involved after the student and his father, Samuel Bird, requested backing from Lumbee tribal leaders, who called the school’s enforcement of its policy in this instance “a disgrace.” The Sisseton-Wahpeton tribe and other American Indian tribes traditionally use eagle feathers for ceremonial purposes. Typically, an eagle feather is given only in times of great honor for example, eagle feathers are given to mark great personal achievement. The gift of an eagle feather to a youth is a great honor and is typically given to recognize an important transition in his or her life. Many young people are given eagle feathers upon graduation from high school to signify achievement of this important educational journey and the honor the graduate brings to his or her family, community and tribe. Corey’s feathers were gifted to him by his father for this occasion, and they have even greater meaning to him because Corey wants to spiritually honor his mother and grandfather, who are both deceased.
The Lumbee Tribal Council passed a resolution of support for Corey to wear the eagle feathers to graduation, but still the school would not budge, prompting the organizations to step in. The following quote can be attributed to Katherine Parker of ACLU-NC: “In addition to being just plain bad policy, the school district’s decision also appears to violate Corey’s right to freely exercise his religion under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, as well as Corey’s father’s fundamental right to parent under the Fourteenth Amendment. We urge the school district to rethink its short-sighted decision.”
The following quote can be attributed to Steve Moore of NARF: “Given the Native American reverence for eagles, and the high honor represented by a school graduation, we at NARF cannot imagine a more appropriate setting for the dignified wearing of an eagle feather. Most schools in America that have struggled with this issue in the past few decades have understood that permitting the wearing of eagle feathers at graduation is not only good policy but the right thing to do from a human perspective.”
Robeson County is approximately 40% Lumbee, according to the U.S. Census. The Robeson County School Board’s next scheduled meeting is June 10. The organizations look forward to attending along with parents, community members and supporters to address the matter.
The Native American Rights Fund is a national organization that provides legal representation and technical assistance to Indian tribes, organizations and individuals nationwide. The ACLU-NC, a nonprofit organization with 9,000 members in North Carolina, is dedicated to defending the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States.
READ Joint Letter from NARF & ACLU to Robeson County School officials strongly urging them to allow Corey to weather his feathers to graduation
For more on this story read: "Soaring Strong: Lumbee student fights to wear feathers to graduation," Indian Country Today, 6/4/08