Solem v. Bartlett,
465 U.S. 463 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Solem v. Bartlett, 465 U.S. 463 (1984)

Solem v. Bartlett

No. 82-1253

Argued December 7, 1984

Decided February 22, 1984

465 U.S. 463


The Cheyenne River Act (Act), enacted in 1908, authorized the Secretary of the Interior "to sell and dispose of " for homesteading a specified portion of the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation located in South Dakota, with the sale proceeds to be deposited in the United States Treasury to the credit of the Indians having tribal rights on the reservation. Respondent, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, was convicted of attempted rape in a South Dakota state court. After exhausting state remedies, he filed a habeas corpus petition in Federal District Court, contending that the crime occurred within Indian country, that although the Act opened a portion of the reservation for homesteading, it did not diminish the reservation, and that therefore the State lacked jurisdiction over him, the federal courts having exclusive jurisdiction under 18 U.S.C. § 1153. The District Court issued a writ of habeas corpus, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The Act did not diminish the reservation. Pp. 465 U. S. 466-481.

(a) Only Congress can divest an Indian reservation of its land and diminish its boundaries. But Congress must clearly evince an intent to change boundaries before diminishment will be found. When both a surplus land Act and its legislative history fail to provide substantial and compelling evidence of such an intent, this Court is bound by its traditional solicitude for Indian tribes to rule that diminishment did not take place, and that old reservation boundaries survived the opening of unallotted land for non-Indian settlement. Pp. 465 U. S. 466-472.

(b) Here, the Act's operative language authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to "sell and dispose" of certain lands, coupled with the creation of Indian accounts for the proceeds, suggests that the Secretary was simply being authorized to act as the Tribe's sales agent. The balance of the Act is consistent with the implication of the operative language that the Act opened, but did not diminish, the reservation. In fact, certain provisions of the Act strongly suggest that the unallotted opened lands would, for the immediate future, remain an integral part of the reservation. Isolated phrases in the Act supporting the view that the reservation was diminished, when balanced against the Act's stated and limited goal of opening up reservation lands for sale to non-Indian settlers,

Page 465 U. S. 464

cannot carry the burden of establishing an express congressional purpose to diminish. Pp. 465 U. S. 472-476.

(c) Nor do either the circumstances surrounding the passage of the Act or subsequent events establish a clear congressional purpose to diminish the reservation. Moreover, the opened portions of the reservation have retained their Indian character since 1908. Pp. 465 U. S. 476-480. 691 F.2d 420, affirmed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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