A decision announced by District Court Judge James A. Boasberg on April 16th is now being appealed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The ruling paved the way for the Catawba Indian tribe to establish a casino venue in Cleveland but recently, the Cherokees filed a notice for an appeal to the District of Columbia Circuit’s US Court of Appeals.
Richard Sneed, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, explained that the issue is complex and Judge Boasberg’s ruling was “a close call”. He further noted that the tribe still believes that the Department of Interior breached the existing legislation by giving its approval to the Catawba casino project, so it is now seeking justice by appealing the court’s decision.
At the time he officially announced his decision on the case, Judge Boasberg said he had examined in detail each of the claims made by the Cherokee Indians. Eventually, he ruled in favor of the defendants. The 55-page opinion of the Judge reads that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians raised a number of complex questions regarding regulatory and statutory construction and the court could not blame them for that. However, they eventually got nowhere, as they were found to lack standing on each claim.
At the time when the court’s ruling was announced, the Catawba Nation refused to comment on the Cherokees’ intention to appeal. In a press release issued after the announcement of the Judge’s ruling, Chief Bill Harris shared that such an appeal would be a frivolous one.
Plaintiff Trying to Prevent the Establishment of Catawba’s Casino Project
The initial legal action against the Department of Interior was filed by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians on March 17th, 2020 – less than a week after the agency gave its approval to the Catawba Nation’s application to take a piece of land in Kings Mountain totaling 16.5 acres into trust. At the time, the lawsuit was joined by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma that entered as an intervenor of the plaintiff side and the Catawba Indian tribe joined the defendant’s side as an intervenor.
The Catawba Nation is a federally recognized Indian tribe based in Rock Hill, South Carolina. For years, it had been trying to establish a casino in Kings Mountain, where it hoped to be able to launch its gaming operations. Unfortunately for the tribe, South Carolina’s state laws suspended it from building such a casino there, on the grounds that the location in Kings Mountain has not been part of the tribal lands. This was exactly why having the land taken into trust was one of the most important issues that had to be faced by the Catawba Nation in order for the tribe to clear its path to the construction of its planned gambling venue.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians criticized the decision of the Department of the Interior to give its approval to the Catawba’s land-to-trust application, claiming it was violating the plain language of federal law. According to the plaintiffs, the decision contradicted the provisions of the Settlement Act of 1993 and the Administrative Procedure Act under which the framework for the status of Catawba as a tribe recognized by the federal authorities was established. Also, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians claimed that the approval process at the Department of the Interior breached both the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Protection Act.