May 20, 2020

Warren Joins Haaland in Filing Bicameral, Bipartisan Legal Brief to Protect Tribe's Land From Executive Infringement

Amicus brief for Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in case against Department of the Interior signed by 25 members of Congress

Amicus Brief (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) joined Congresswoman Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) in filing a bicameral, bipartisan amicus brief opposing the U.S. Department of the Interior's unprecedented action to remove the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's reservation land from trust status. The brief, signed by 25 members of Congress, was filed in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia.

Fourteen days after the United States declared a national emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of the Interior revoked their prior decision to take the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe's land into trust that established the Tribe's land in Massachusetts as reservation land. On March 30, 2020, the Tribe filed an emergency injunction and temporary restraining order in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia to prevent the Department of the Interior from disestablishing their reservation until a decision in the underlying case is rendered. The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is one of the two federally recognized tribal nations in Massachusetts.

In the amicus brief, the lawmakers argue that the Executive Branch infringed on the powers of Congress by attempting to exert unlawful authority over Indian tribes without a Congressional directive to take the Tribe's land out of trust, especially during a national emergency.

The lawmakers outline that, "When it comes to Indian lands, congressional power is at its apex and the Executive Branch is forbidden to disturb tribal lands unless Congress has directed or permitted it in clear and unambiguous terms."

In addition to Warren and Haaland, the amicus brief is signed by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Representatives Tom Cole (R-Okla.), Bill Keating (D-Mass.), Joseph P. Kennedy III (D-Mass.), Betty McCollum (DFL-Minn.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Susan A. Davis (D-Calif.), Sharice L. Davids (D-Kan.), Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Katherine M. Clark (D-Mass.), Kendra S. Horn (D-Okla.), Veronica Escobar (D-Tex.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis), and Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). 

Senator Warren has long opposed the Trump administration's efforts to strip the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe of their homelands. After the Department of the Interior's latest attempt to disestablish the Tribe's reservation, Senator Warren and Senator Markey made a statement condemning the decision, and she has been working with the Tribe and the Massachusetts congressional delegation on the issue. She has also cosponsored legislation (S. 2808) to provide a fix to the 2009 Supreme Court case Carcieri v. Salazar, so that tribal nations' lands-like those of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe-can be taken into trust and protected.