Santa Clara Pueblo v. Martinez

Decision Date15 May 1978
Docket NumberNo. 76-682,76-682
Citation436 U.S. 49,56 L.Ed.2d 106,98 S.Ct. 1670
PartiesSANTA CLARA PUEBLO et al., Petitioners, v. Julia MARTINEZ et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

Respondents, a female member of the Santa Clara Pueblo and her daughter, brought this action for declaratory and injunctive relief against petitioners, the Pueblo and its Governor, alleging that a Pueblo ordinance that denies tribal membership to the children of female members who marry outside the tribe, but not to similarly situated children of men of that tribe, violates Title I of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (ICRA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1301-1303, which in relevant part provides that "[n]o Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws." 25 U.S.C. § 1302(8). The ICRA's only express remedial provision, 25 U.S.C. § 1303, extends the writ of habeas corpus to any person, in a federal court, "to test the legality of his detention by order of an Indian tribe." The District Court held that jurisdiction was conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1343(4) and 25 U.S.C. § 1302(8), apparently concluding that the substantive provisions of Title I impliedly authorized civil actions for declaratory and injunctive relief, and also that the tribe was not immune from such a suit. Subsequently, the court found for petitioners on the merits. The Court of Appeals, while agreeing on the jurisdictional issue, reversed on the merits. Held:

1. Suits against the tribe under the ICRA are barred by the tribe's sovereign immunity from suit, since nothing on the face of the ICRA purports to subject tribes to the jurisdiction of federal courts in civil actions for declaratory or injunctive relief. Pp. 58-59.

2. Nor does § 1302 impliedly authorize a private cause of action for declaratory and injunctive relief against the Pueblo's Governor. Congress' failure to provide remedies other than habeas corpus for enforcement of the ICRA was deliberate, as is manifest from the structure of the statutory scheme and the legislative history of Title I. Pp. 59-72.

(a) Congress was committed to the goal of tribal self-determination, as is evidenced by the provisions of Title I itself. Section 1302 selectively incorporated and in some instances modified the safeguards of the Bill of Rights to fit the unique needs of tribal governments, and other parts of the ICRA similarly manifest a congressional purpose to protect tribal sovereignty from undue interference. Creation of a federal cause of action for the enforcement of § 1302 rights would not comport with the congressional goal of protecting tribal self-government. Pp. 62-65.

(b) Tribal courts, which have repeatedly been recognized as appropriate forums for adjudicating disputes involving important interes § of both Indians and non-Indians, are available to vindicate rights created by the ICRA. Pp. 65-66.

(c) After considering numerous alternatives for review of tribal criminal convictions, Congress apparently decided that review by way of habeas corpus would adequately protect the individual interests at stake while avoiding unnecessary intrusions on tribal governments. Similarly, Congress considered and rejected proposals for federal review of alleged violations of the ICRA arising in a civil context. It is thus clear that only the limited review mechanism of § 1303 was contemplated. Pp. 66-70.

(d) By not exposing tribal officials to the full array of federal remedies available to redress actions of federal and state officials, Congress may also have considered that resolution of statutory issues under § 1302, and particularly those issues likely to arise in a civil context, will frequently depend on questions of tribal tradition and custom that tribal forums may be in a better position to evaluate than federal courts. Pp. 71-72.

10th Cir., 540 F.2d 1039, reversed.

Marcelino Prelo, Jr., Albuquerque, N. M., for petitioners.

Richard B. Collins, Window Rock, Ariz., for respondents.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.*

This case requires us to decide whether a federal court may pass on the validity of an Indian tribe's ordinance denying membership to the children of certain female tribal members.

Petitioner Santa Clara Pueblo is an Indian tribe that has been in existence for over 600 years. Respondents, a female member of the tribe and her daughter, brought suit in federal court against the tribe and its Governor, petitioner Lucario Padilla, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against enforcement of a tribal ordinance denying membership in the tribe to children of female members who marry outside the tribe, while extending membership to children of male members who marry outside the tribe. Respondents claimed that this rule discriminates on the basis of both sex and ancestry in violation of Title I of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 (ICRA), 25 U.S.C. §§ 1301-1303, which provides in relevant part that "[n]o Indian tribe in exercising powers of self-government shall . . . deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws." § 1302(8).1

Title I of the ICRA does not expressly authorize the bringing of civil actions for declaratory or injunctive relief to enforce its substantive provisions. The threshold issue in this case is thus whether the Act may be interpreted to impliedly authorize such actions, against a tribe or its officers in the federal courts. For the reasons set forth below, we hold that the Act cannot be so read.

I

Respondent Julia Martinez is a fullblooded member of the Santa Clara Pueblo, and resides on the Santa Clara Reservation in Northern New Mexico. In 1941 she married a Navajo Indian with whom she has since had several children, including respondent Audrey Martinez. Two years before this marriage, the Pueblo passed the membership ordinance here at issue, which bars admission of the Martinez children to the tribe because their father is not a Santa Claran.2 Although the children were raised on the reservation and continue to reside there now that they are adults, as a result of their exclusion from membership they may not vote in tribal elections or hold secular office in the tribe; moreover, they have no right to remain on the reservation in the event of their mother's death, or to inherit their mother's home or her possessory interests in the communal lands.

After unsuccessful efforts to persuade the tribe to change the membership rule, respondents filed this lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated.3 Petitioners moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the court lacked jurisdiction to decide intratribal controversies affecting matters of tribal self-government and sovereignty. The District Court rejected petitioners' contention, finding that jurisdiction was conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1343(4) and 25 U.S.C. § 1302(8). The court apparently concluded, first, that the substantive provisions of Title I impliedly authorized civil actions for declaratory and injunctive relief, and second, that the tribe was not immune from such suit.4 Accordingly, the motion to dismiss was denied. 402 F.Supp. 5 (1975).

Following a full trial, the District Court found for petitioners on the merits. While acknowledging the relatively recent origin of the disputed rule, the District Court never- theless found it to reflect traditional values of patriarchy still significant in tribal life. The court recognized the vital importance of respondents' interests,5 but also determined that membership rules were "no more or less than a mechanism of social . . . self-definition," and as such were basic to the tribe's survival as a cultural a d economic entity. Id., at 15.6 In sustaining the ordinance's validity under the "equal protection clause" of the ICRA, 25 U.S.C. § 1302(8), the District Court concluded that the balance to be struck between these competing interests was better left to the judgment of the Pueblo:

"[T]he equal protection guarantee of the Indian Civil Rights Act should not be construed in a manner which would require or authorize this Court to determine which traditional values will promote cultural survival and should therefore be preserved . . . . Such a determination should be made by the people of Santa Clara; not only because they can best decide what values are important, but also because they must live with the decision every day. . . .

". . . To abrogate tribal decisions, particularly in the delicate area of membership, for whatever 'good' reasons, is to destroy cultural identity under the guise of saving it." 402 F.Supp., at 18-19.

On respondents' appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit upheld the District Court's determination that 28 U.S.C. § 1343(4) provides a jurisdictional basis for actions under Title I of the ICRA. 540 F.2d 1039, 1042 (1976). It found that "since [the ICRA] was designed to provide protection against tribal authority, the intention of Congress to allow suits against the tribe was an essential aspect [of the ICRA]. Otherwise, it would constitute a mere unenforceable declaration of principles." Ibid. The Court of Appeals disagreed, however, with the District Court's ruling on the merits. While recognizing that standards of analysis developed under the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause were not necessarily controlling in the interpretation of this statute, the Court of Appeals apparently concluded that because the classification was one based upon sex it was presumptively invidious and could be sustained only if justified by a compelling tribal interest. See id., at 1047-1048. Because of the ordinance's recent vintage, and because in the court's view the rule did not rationally identify those persons who were emotionally and culturally Santa Clarans, the court held that the tribe's interest in the ordinance was not substantial...

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