Antoine v. Washington
420 U.S. 194 (1975)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Antoine v. Washington, 420 U.S. 194 (1975)

Antoine v. Washington

No. 73-717

Argued December 16, 1974

Decided February 19, 1975

420 U.S. 194

Syllabus

Appellant Indians were convicted of state statutory game violations that had allegedly been committed in an area of a former Indian reservation that the tribe had ceded to the Government by an Agreement made in 1891, later ratified and implemented by Congress, one of whose provisions (Art. 6), relied upon as a defense by appellants, specified that the hunting rights of Indians in common with other persons would not be taken away or abridged. The State Supreme Court, upholding the lower court's rejection of appellants' defense, held that Congress was not constitutionally empowered to inhibit a State's exercise of its police power by legislation ratifying a contract, to which as here the State was not a party, between the Executive Branch and an Indian tribe; that, in any event, the federal implementing statutes (which did not mention Art. 6) did not render the State's game laws inapplicable to the Indian beneficiaries of the Agreement; and that Art. 6 was merely a promise by the United States that, so long as it retained any ceded land and allowed others to hunt thereon, Indians also would be permitted to hunt there.

Held:

1. The ratifying legislation must be construed in the light of the longstanding canon of construction that the wording of treaties and statutes ratifying agreements with the Indians is not to be construed to their prejudice. Pp. 420 U. S. 199-200.

2. The Supremacy Clause precludes application of the state game laws here, since the federal statutes ratifying the 1891 Agreement between the Executive Branch and the Indian tribe are "Laws of the United States . . . made in Pursuance" of the Constitution, and therefore, like all "Treaties made," are made binding upon affected States. Nor does the fact that Congress had abolished the contract-by-treaty method of dealing with Indian tribes affect Congress' power to legislate on the problems of Indians, including legislation ratifying contracts between the Executive Branch with Indian tribes to which affected States were not parties. Choate v. Trapp,224 U. S. 665; Perrin v. United States,232 U. S. 478. Pp. 420 U. S. 200-204.

3. In ratifying the Agreement pursuant to its plenary constitutional powers, Congress manifested no purpose of subjecting the

Page 420 U. S. 195

rights conferred upon the Indians to state regulation, and, in view of the unqualified ratification of Art. 6, any state qualification of those rights is precluded by the Supremacy Clause. Pp. 420 U. S. 204-205.

4. Although the State is free to regulate non-Indian hunting rights in the ceded area, the ratifying legislation must be construed to exempt the Indians from like state control or Congress would have preserved nothing that the Indians would not have had without the legislation, which would have been "an impotent outcome to [the] negotiations," United States v. Winans,198 U. S. 371, 198 U. S. 380. Pp. 420 U. S. 205-206.

82 Wash.2d 440, 511 P.2d 1351, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 420 U. S. 208. REHNQUIST, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEWART, J., joined, post, p. 420 U. S. 213.

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