The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ordered the federal government to reimburse native American tribes the full expenses they had incurred in running federal programs, including contracts for public services, education, environmental protection and security.
The ruling comes after the Navajo Indians and several other tribes moved the court after the U.S. Congress failed to allocate enough money under the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975 to the tribes for the public services they provided between 1994-2001.
Under the Act, the Department of Interior is required to enter into contracts with willing tribes and pay them for public services that the federal government otherwise has to provide by itself. But in 1994, the government changed the way by which it paid for services provided under such contracts.
Instead of paying in full for each contract, the government began giving a collective lump sum to the tribes for their services after imposing a ceiling on those payments. Under the new arrangement, a portion of the money owed to the tribes ended up being withheld by the government.
In the class action suit filed at the Supreme Court, the native tribes insisted that they were being treated unfairly by the Department of the Interior with the caps imposed on payments for the contracts it had entered with them. They claimed that they were deprived of millions of dollars under the new system.
In the Monday ruling, Supreme Court judges upheld the claims made by the tribes in a five-four vote, and stressed that the tribes could not be held at fault for the ceiling imposed on the contracts by the Congress due to the lack of funds.
"Consistent with longstanding principles of government contracting law, we hold that the government must pay each tribe's contract support costs in full," justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote while delivering the Court's opinion.
Under the ruling, public services provided as per contracts entered under the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975 will now be paid in the same way as any private contractor, marking a major victory for the aboriginals.
by RTT Staff Writer
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