U.S. v. Cooley

Filed on:

On November 20, the U.S. Supreme Court’s granted the United States’ petition for writ of certiorari in U.S. v. Cooley, No. 19-1414. The case centers on whether the United States District Court for the District of Montana erred in suppressing evidence on the theory that a Crow Tribal police officer lacked authority to temporarily detain and search Mr. James Cooley, a non-Indian, on a public right-of-way within the Crow Indian Reservation based on a potential violation of state or federal law. The case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which denied the appeal and also denied the United States’ petition for rehearing en banc, although several Ninth Circuit Judges issued an opinion dissenting from that decision, explaining:

“The panel’s extraordinary decision in this case directly contravenes long-established Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court precedent, disregards contrary authority from other state and federal appellate courts, and threatens to seriously undermine the ability of Indian tribes to ensure public safety for the hundreds of thousands of persons who live on reservations within the Ninth Circuit.” Earlier this year, the Crow Tribe led a group of dozens of tribal amici curiae participants supporting the United States’ petition for Supreme Court review. NIWRC filed a key amicus brief, and one of the arguments the NIWRC made in asking the Court to grant cert was that:

“NIWRC's work to eliminate domestic violence against Native women and children is directly implicated by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal's decision eliminating the authority of tribal law enforcement to conduct a reasonable suspicion Terry stop on a non-Indian traveling within reservation borders. According to the new standard now articulated by the Ninth Circuit, until or unless tribal law enforcement witness an "obvious" or "apparent" violation of state or federal law, tribal law enforcement remains without the requisite authority to briefly stop and conduct a limited investigation of a non-Indian when there is reasonable suspicion they have committed a crime.

The introduction of this vague and ambiguous standard will significantly impede the ability of tribal law enforcement to fully effectuate the restored tribal criminal jurisdiction that Congress passed in its Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 ("VAWA" or "VAWA 2013"), Pub. L. No. 113-4, § 904(a)(3), 127 Stat. 54, 121 (2013) (codified at 25 U.S.C. § 1304(a)(3)).” 

The Crow Tribe, the National Congress of American Indians, and the Native American Rights Fund also requested that the Supreme Court grant cert and considering overturning the Ninth Circuit’s misguided ruling. Thankfully, the Court agreed to hear the case.

On January 15, 2021, NIWRC, joined by 11 Tribal Nations and 44 non-profit organizations committed to justice and safety for Native women, filed an amicus brief in U.S. v. Cooley. The case will be argued before the Supreme Court in the 2021 Term.