Inyo County v. Paiute-Shoshone Indians of Bishop Community of Bishop Colony,
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538 U.S. 701 (2003)
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OCTOBER TERM, 2002
INYO COUNTY, CALIFORNIA, ET AL. v. PAIUTESHOSHONE INDIANS OF THE BISHOP COMMUNITY OF THE BISHOP COLONY ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No.02-281. Argued March 31, 2003-Decided May 19,2003
decision in which it held that the right to tribal self-government is not protected by § 1983, the court concluded that, in this case, a § 1983 claim could be maintained because the Tribe sought protection from an unlawful search and seizure, a right secured by the Fourth Amendment and therefore within § 1983's compass.
1. The Tribe may not sue under § 1983 to vindicate the sovereign right it here claims. Section 1983 permits "citizen[s]" and "other personEs] within the jurisdiction" of the United States to seek legal and equitable relief from "person[s]" who, under color of state law, deprive them of federally protected rights. Although this case does not squarely present the question, the Court assumes that tribes, like States, are not subject to suit under § 1983. See Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U. S. 58. The issue pivotal here is whether a tribe qualifies as a claimant-a "person within the jurisdiction" of the United States-under § 1983. Qualification of a sovereign as a "person" who may maintain a particular claim for relief depends not "upon a bare analysis of the word 'person,'" Pfizer Inc. v. Government of India, 434 U. S. 308, 317, but on the "legislative environment" in which the word appears, Georgia v. Evans, 316 U. S. 159, 161. There is in this case no allegation that the County lacked probable cause or that the warrant was otherwise defective. It is only by virtue of the Tribe's asserted "sovereign" status that it claims immunity from the County's processes. Section 1983 was designed to secure private rights against government encroachment, see Will, 491 U. S., at 66, not to advance a sovereign's prerogative to withhold evidence relevant to a criminal investigation. For example, a tribal member complaining of a Fourth Amendment violation would be a "person" qualified to sue under § 1983. But, like other persons, that member would have no immunity from an appropriately executed search warrant based on probable cause. The Tribe, accordingly, may not sue under § 1983 to vindicate the sovereign right it here claims. Pp. 708-712.
2. The Tribe has not explained, and the trial and appellate courts have not clearly decided, what prescription of federal common law, if any, enables the Tribe to maintain an action for declaratory and injunctive relief establishing its sovereign right to be free from state criminal processes. This case is therefore remanded for focused consideration and resolution of that jurisdictional question. P. 712.
291 F.3d 549, vacated and remanded.
GINSBURG, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST,