The U.S. Department of Justice has stepped into the legal battle over the rights of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) to build a casino on tribal lands in the smallest town on Martha’s Vineyard. In a brief filed Friday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Justice Department lawyers argued that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act “implicitly repealed” the Settlement Act that has checked the tribe’s gaming ambitions for almost three decades.
The tribe is seeking to overturn a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV, issued Nov. 13, 2015, that the tribe could not turn its unfinished community center into a class II gambling facility. Judge Saylor said the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), signed in 1988, does not trump the Settlement Act, signed by tribal leadership in 1983 and ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987.
The settlement agreement stipulated that the tribe was subject to local and state laws and zoning regulations in effect at the time, and it has formed the bedrock of the longstanding legal relationship between the tribe and the rest of the Martha’s Vineyard community.
Following a detailed analysis of the issues in the case, Judge Saylor said, “In summary, the tribe has not met its burden of demonstrating that it exercises sufficient ‘governmental power’ over the settlement lands, and therefore IGRA does not apply. Furthermore, and in any event, it is clear that IGRA did not repeal by implication the Massachusetts Settlement Act.”
The Department of Justice (DOJ) brief states: The district court’s judgement should be reversed
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