Kerr-McGee Corp. v. Navajo Tribe
471 U.S. 195 (1985)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Kerr-McGee Corp. v. Navajo Tribe, 471 U.S. 195 (1985)

Kerr-McGee Corp. v. Navajo Tribe of Indians

No. 84-68

Argued February 25, 1985

Decided April 16, 1985

471 U.S. 195

Syllabus

The Tribal Council of respondent Navajo Tribe enacted ordinances imposing taxes on the value of leasehold interests in tribal lands and on receipts from the sale of property produced or extracted or the sale of services within those lands. Petitioner, a mineral lessee on the Navajo Reservation, brought an action in Federal District Court, claiming that the taxes were invalid without approval of the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary). The District Court agreed, and enjoined the Tribe from enforcing the tax laws against petitioner. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that no federal statute or principle of law mandated approval by the Secretary.

Held: The Secretary's approval of the taxes in question is not required. Pp. 471 U. S. 198-201.

(a) While § 16 of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 requires a tribal constitution written under the Act to be approved by the Secretary, the Act does not require the constitution to condition the power to tax on the Secretary's approval. In any event, the Act does not govern tribes, like the Navajo, that declined to accept its provisions. And there is nothing to indicate that Congress intended to recognize as legitimate only those tribal taxes authorized by constitutions written under the Act. Pp. 471 U. S. 198-199.

(b) Nor does the Indian Mineral Leasing Act of 1938 require the Secretary's approval of the Navajo taxes. While § 4 of the Act subjects mineral leases issued under the Act to regulations promulgated by the Secretary, the regulations have not required that tribal taxes on mineral production be submitted for his approval. In enacting § 4, Congress could properly make a distinction between a tribe acting as a commercial partner in selling the right to use its land for mineral production and acting as a sovereign in imposing taxes on activities within its jurisdiction. And even assuming that the Secretary could review tribal taxes on mineral production, it does not follow that he must do so. Pp. 471 U. S. 199-200.

(c) Nor do statutes requiring the Secretary's supervision in other contexts indicate that Congress has limited the Navajo Tribal Council's authority to tax non-Indians. The power to tax members and non-members

Page 471 U. S. 196

of a tribe alike is an essential attribute of the tribal self-government that the Federal Government is committed to promote. Pp. 471 U. S. 200-201.

731 F.2d 597, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined, except POWELL, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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