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Monday, June 27, 2005

The Supremes: Decades of Incompetence

For those that think only the latest Supreme Court decision was a dismal failure, this New York Times editorial shows the impetus for the bad land and tribal decisions.

And yet it is bad federal law that got us into this mess. For centuries, our legal system recognized, through statutes of limitation and related concepts, that it is unfair and economically destructive to hold the door openfor the revival of long-dormant grievances. But in a profoundly misguided 5-to-4 decision in a 1985 case involving the Oneidas, the United States Supreme Court, influenced by guilt over the nation's sorry history in this area, decided that Indian land claims were an exception and not subject to time limits.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote an eloquent dissent. "This decision upsets long-settled expectations in the ownership of real property," he noted. "The court, no doubt, believes that it is undoing a grave historical injustice, but in doing so it has
caused another, which only Congress may now rectify."

And Justice Stevens quoted an 1831 case, Lewis v. Marshall: "Nothing so much retards the growth and prosperity of a country as insecurity of titles to real estate. Labor is paralyzed where the enjoyment of its fruits is uncertain; and litigation without limit produces ruinous consequences to individuals."


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