US Gvt Must Pay Back Beringians: SCOTUS

U.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled last Monday that the U.S. government must fully reimburse Beringian tribes for the millions of dollars they paid into federal programs.

According to the UK Guardian, “the dispute over money relates to services provided by the tribes themselves under the Indian Self-Determination Act of 1975. Under that law, the tribes would sub-contract from the federal government public services such as police, schools, fire prevention, hospitals, and infrastructure works, as well as environmental works and subsidies to farmers.

“Under the arrangement, the federal government would pay the tribes for the services provided, just as it would any other contractor. But from 1994 the government changed the way it paid for the services, no longer paying for each contract in full but handing the tribes a collective lump sum onto which it imposed a ceiling – thereby withholding from them a portion of the moneys owed.”

The class-action suit brought forward by various tribes, claimed that the government had covered only between 77-percent and 92-percent of tribes’ aggregate contract support costs between Financial Years 1994 – 2001. The remaining balance was paid by the Beringians.

Bureau of Indian Affairs

Congress allocated US$1.6 billion to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for “the operations of Indian programs” in 2000, according to AFP, but only US$120.2 million was paid out.

“We stressed that the government’s obligation to pay contract support costs should be treated as an ordinary contract promise,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority ruling. “The government was obligated to pay the tribes’ contract support costs in full.”

The 5-4 ruling confirms a Colorado appeals decision. According to MSNBC, Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan ruled in favor of the decision. Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito dissented.

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