U.S. Supreme Court rules MI can’t sue U.P. tribe over casino

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that the Bay Mills Indian Community can’t be sued by the state of Michigan for running an off-reservation casino in the Lower Peninsula.

The Bay Mills reservation is in the eastern U.P., and the tribe operates a casino on reservation land in Brimley. The tribe opened a second casino in Vanderbilt, in Otsego County, in 2010. The Vanderbilt casino was not on reservation land. The state of Michigan sued, claiming the Bay Mills Indian Community didn’t have the right to operate it. A U.S. District Court judge issued a preliminary injunction in 2011, ordering the Vanderbilt casino to close until the lawsuit was decided. The casino remains closed today.

The tribe appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the decision a year later on grounds of tribal sovereign immunity. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, and state and tribal attorneys argued the case before the high court last December. The justices ruled in a 5-4 vote Tuesday that as a domestic sovereign entity, the Bay Mills tribe can’t be sued by the state unless Congress votes otherwise.

However, Justice Elena Kagen said in her majority opinion that Michigan can pursue other avenues to stop the tribe from operating an off-reservation casino, including bringing criminal charges against tribal officials. The case has now been sent back to U.S. District Court. Schuette said in a statement that the state will continue its efforts to keep the Vanderbilt casino closed.