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II

We first consider whether the Crow Tribe’s hunting rights under the 1868 Treaty remain valid. Relying on this Court’s decision in Mille Lacs, Herrera and the United States contend that those rights did not expire when Wyoming became a State in 1890. We agree.

A

Wyoming argues that this Court’s decision in Race Horse establishes that the Crow Tribe’s 1868 Treaty right expired at statehood. But this case is controlled by Mille Lacs, not Race Horse.

Race Horse concerned a hunting right guaranteed in a treaty with the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes. The Shoshone-Bannock Treaty and the 1868 Treaty with the Crow Tribe were signed in the same year and contain identical language reserving an off-reservation hunting right. See Treaty Between the United States of America and the Eastern Band of Shoshonees [sic] and the Bannack [sic] Tribe of Indians (Shoshone-Bannock Treaty), July 3, 1868, 15 Stat. 674–675 (“[T]hey shall have the right to hunt on the unoccupied lands of the United States so long as game may be found thereon, and so long as peace subsists among the whites and Indians on the borders of the hunting districts”). The Race Horse Court concluded that Wyoming’s admission to the United States extinguished the Shoshone-Bannock Treaty right. 163 U. S., at 505, 514–515.

Race Horse relied on two lines of reasoning. The first turned on the doctrine that new States are admitted to the Union on an “equal footing” with existing States. Id., at 511–514 (citing, e.g., Lessee of Pollard v. Hagan, 3 How. 212 (1845)). This doctrine led the Court to conclude that the Wyoming Statehood Act repealed the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes’ hunting rights, because affording the Tribes a protected hunting right lasting after statehood would be “irreconcilably in conflict” with the power—“vested in all other States of the Union” and newly shared by Wyoming—“to regulate the killing of game within their borders.” 163 U. S., at 509, 514.

Second, the Court found no evidence in the Shoshone-Bannock Treaty itself that Congress intended the treaty right to continue in “perpetuity.” Id., at 514–515. To the contrary, the Court emphasized that Congress “clearly contemplated the disappearance of the conditions” specified in the treaty. Id., at 509. The Court decided that the rights at issue in the Shoshone-Bannock Treaty were “essentially perishable” and afforded the Tribes only a “temporary and precarious” privilege. Id., at 515.

*6 More than a century after Race Horse and four years after Repsis relied on that decision, however, Mille Lacs undercut both pillars of Race Horse’s reasoning. Mille Lacs considered an 1837 Treaty that guaranteed to several bands of Chippewa Indians the privilege of hunting, fishing, and gathering in ceded lands “ ‘during the pleasure of the President.’ ” 526 U. S., at 177 (quoting 1837 Treaty With the Chippewa, 7 Stat. 537). In an opinion extensively discussing and distinguishing Race Horse, the Court decided that the treaty rights of the Chippewa bands survived after Minnesota was admitted to the Union. 526 U. S., at 202–208.

Mille Lacs approached the question before it in two stages. The Court first asked whether the Act admitting Minnesota to the Union abrogated the treaty right of the Chippewa bands. Next, the Court examined the Chippewa Treaty itself for evidence that the parties intended the treaty right to expire at statehood. These inquires roughly track the two lines of analysis in Race Horse. Despite these parallel analyses, however, the Mille Lacs Court refused Minnesota’s invitation to rely on Race Horse, explaining that the case had “been qualified by later decisions.” 526 U. S., at 203. Although Mille Lacs stopped short of explicitly overruling Race Horse, it methodically repudiated that decision’s logic.

[1]To begin with, in addressing the effect of the Minnesota Statehood Act on the Chippewa Treaty right, the Mille Lacs Court entirely rejected the “equal footing” reasoning applied in Race Horse. The earlier case concluded that the Act admitting Wyoming to the Union on an equal footing “repeal[ed]” the Shoshone-Bannock Treaty right because the treaty right was “irreconcilable” with state sovereignty over natural resources. Race Horse, 163 U. S., at 514. But Mille Lacs explained that this conclusion “rested on a false premise.” 526 U. S., at 204. Later decisions showed that States can impose reasonable and nondiscriminatory regulations on an Indian tribe’s treaty-based hunting, fishing, and gathering rights on state land when necessary for conservation. Id., at 204–205 (citing Washington v. Washington State Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel Assn., 443 U. S. 658, 682 (1979); Antoine v. Washington, 420 U. S. 194, 207–208 (1975); Puyallup Tribe v. Department of Game of Wash., 391 U. S. 392, 398 (1968)). “[B]ecause treaty rights are reconcilable with state sovereignty over natural resources,” the Mille Lacs Court concluded, there is no reason to find statehood itself sufficient “to extinguish Indian treaty rights to hunt, fish, and gather on land within state boundaries.” 526 U. S., at 205.

In lieu of adopting the equal-footing analysis, the Court instead drew on numerous decisions issued since Race Horse to explain that Congress “must clearly express” any intent to abrogate Indian treaty rights. 526 U. S., at 202 (citing United States v. Dion, 476 U. S. 734, 738–740 (1986); Fishing Vessel Assn., 443 U. S., at 690; Menominee Tribe v. United States, 391 U. S. 404, 413 (1968)). The Court found no such “ ‘clear evidence’ ” in the Act admitting Minnesota to the Union, which was “silent” with regard to Indian treaty rights. 526 U. S., at 203.

The Mille Lacs Court then turned to what it referred to as Race Horse’s “alternative holding” that the rights in the Shoshone-Bannock Treaty “were not intended to survive Wyoming’s statehood.” 526 U. S., at 206. The Court observed that Race Horse could be read to suggest that treaty rights only survive statehood if the rights are “ ‘ “of such a nature as to imply their perpetuity,” ’ ” rather than “ ‘temporary and precarious.’ ” 526 U. S., at 206. The Court rejected such an approach. The Court found the “ ‘temporary and precarious’ ” language “too broad to be useful,” given that almost any treaty rights—which Congress may unilaterally repudiate, see Dion, 476 U. S., at 738—could be described in those terms. 526 U. S., at 206–207. Instead, Mille Lacs framed Race Horse as inquiring into whether the Senate “intended the rights secured by the ... Treaty to survive statehood.” 526 U. S., at 207. Applying this test, Mille Lacs concluded that statehood did not extinguish the Chippewa bands’ treaty rights. The Chippewa Treaty itself defined the specific “circumstances under which the rights would terminate,” and there was no suggestion that statehood would satisfy those circumstances. Ibid.

*7 Maintaining its focus on the treaty’s language, Mille Lacs distinguished the Chippewa Treaty before it from the Shoshone-Bannock Treaty at issue in Race Horse. Specifically, the Court noted that the Shoshone-Bannock Treaty, unlike the Chippewa Treaty, “tie[d] the duration of the rights to the occurrence of some clearly contemplated event[s]”—i.e., to whenever the hunting grounds would cease to “remai[n] unoccupied and owned by the United States.” 526 U. S., at 207. In drawing that distinction, however, the Court took care to emphasize that the treaty termination analysis turns on the events enumerated in the “Treaty itself.” Ibid. Insofar as the Race Horse Court determined that the Shoshone-Bannock Treaty was “impliedly repealed,” Mille Lacs disavowed that earlier holding. 526 U. S., at 207. “Treaty rights,” the Court clarified, “are not impliedly terminated upon statehood.” Ibid. The Court further explained that “[t]he Race Horse Court’s decision to the contrary”—that Wyoming’s statehood did imply repeal of Indian treaty rights—“was informed by” that Court’s erroneous conclusion “that the Indian treaty rights were inconsistent with state sovereignty over natural resources.” Id., at 207–208.

[2] [3]In sum, Mille Lacs upended both lines of reasoning in Race Horse. The case established that the crucial inquiry for treaty termination analysis is whether Congress has expressly abrogated an Indian treaty right or whether a termination point identified in the treaty itself has been satisfied. Statehood is irrelevant to this analysis unless a statehood Act otherwise demonstrates Congress’ clear intent to abrogate a treaty, or statehood appears as a termination point in the treaty. See 526 U. S., at 207. “[T]here is nothing inherent in the nature of reserved treaty rights to suggest that they can be extinguished by implication at statehood.” Ibid.

Even Wyoming concedes that the Court has rejected the equal-footing reasoning in Race Horse, Brief for Respondent 26, but the State contends that Mille Lacs reaffirmed the alternative holding in Race Horse that the Shoshone-Bannock Treaty right (and thus the identically phrased right in the 1868 Treaty with the Crow Tribe) was intended to end at statehood. We are unpersuaded. As explained above, although the decision in Mille Lacs did not explicitly say that it was overruling the alternative ground in Race Horse, it is impossible to harmonize Mille Lacs’ analysis with the Court’s prior reasoning in Race Horse. 1

We thus formalize what is evident in Mille Lacs itself. While Race Horse “was not expressly overruled” in Mille Lacs, “it must be regarded as retaining no vitality” after that decision. Limbach v. Hooven & Allison Co., 466 U. S. 353, 361 (1984). To avoid any future confusion, we make clear today that Race Horse is repudiated to the extent it held that treaty rights can be impliedly extinguished at statehood.

B

[4]Because this Court’s intervening decision in Mille Lacs repudiated the reasoning on which the Tenth Circuit relied in Repsis, Repsis does not preclude Herrera from arguing that the 1868 Treaty right survived Wyoming’s statehood.

[5] [6]Under the doctrine of issue preclusion, “a prior judgment ... foreclos[es] successive litigation of an issue of fact or law actually litigated and resolved in a valid court determination essential to the prior judgment.” New Hampshire v. Maine, 532 U. S. 742, 748–749 (2001). Even when the elements of issue preclusion are met, however, an exception may be warranted if there has been an intervening “ ‘change in [the] applicable legal context.’ ” Bobby v. Bies, 556 U. S. 825, 834 (2009) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Judgments § 28, Comment c (1980)); see Limbach, 466 U. S., at 363 (refusing to find a party bound by “an early decision based upon a now repudiated legal doctrine”); see also Montana v. United States, 440 U. S. 147, 155 (1979) (asking “whether controlling facts or legal principles ha[d] changed significantly” since a judgment before giving it preclusive effect); id., at 157–158 (explaining that a prior judgment was conclusive “[a]bsent significant changes in controlling facts or legal principles” since the judgment); Commissioner v. Sunnen, 333 U. S. 591, 599 (1948) (issue preclusion “is designed to prevent repetitious lawsuits over matters which have once been decided and which have remained substantially static, factually and legally”). The change-in-law exception recognizes that applying issue preclusion in changed circumstances may not “advance the equitable administration of the law.” Bobby, 556 U. S., at 836–837. 2

*8 [7]We conclude that a change in law justifies an exception to preclusion in this case. There is no question that the Tenth Circuit in Repsis relied on this Court’s binding decision in Race Horse to conclude that the 1868 Treaty right terminated upon Wyoming’s statehood. See 73 F. 3d, at 994. When the Tenth Circuit reached its decision in Repsis, it had no authority to disregard this Court’s holding in Race Horse and no ability to predict the analysis this Court would adopt in Mille Lacs. Mille Lacs repudiated Race Horse’s reasoning. Although we recognize that it may be difficult at the margins to discern whether a particular legal shift warrants an exception to issue preclusion, this is not a marginal case. At a minimum, a repudiated decision does not retain preclusive force. See Limbach, 466 U. S., at 363. 3

C

[8]We now consider whether, applying Mille Lacs, Wyoming’s admission to the Union abrogated the Crow Tribe’s off-reservation treaty hunting right. It did not.

[9] [10]First, the Wyoming Statehood Act does not show that Congress intended to end the 1868 Treaty hunting right. If Congress seeks to abrogate treaty rights, “it must clearly express its intent to do so.” Mille Lacs, 526 U. S., at 202. “There must be ‘clear evidence that Congress actually considered the conflict between its intended action on the one hand and Indian treaty rights on the other, and chose to resolve that conflict by abrogating the treaty.’ ” Id., at 202–203 (quoting Dion, 476 U. S., at 740); see Menominee Tribe, 391 U. S., at 412. Like the Act discussed in Mille Lacs, the Wyoming Statehood Act “makes no mention of Indian treaty rights” and “provides no clue that Congress considered the reserved rights of the [Crow Tribe] and decided to abrogate those rights when it passed the Act.” Cf. Mille Lacs, 526 U. S., at 203; see Wyoming Statehood Act, 26 Stat. 222. There simply is no evidence that Congress intended to abrogate the 1868 Treaty right through the Wyoming Statehood Act, much less the “ ‘clear evidence’ ” this Court’s precedent requires. Mille Lacs, 526 U. S., at 203. 4

[11] [12] [13]Nor is there any evidence in the treaty itself that Congress intended the hunting right to expire at statehood, or that the Crow Tribe would have understood it to do so. A treaty is “essentially a contract between two sovereign nations.” Fishing Vessel Assn., 443 U. S., at 675. Indian treaties “must be interpreted in light of the parties’ intentions, with any ambiguities resolved in favor of the Indians,” Mille Lacs, 526 U. S., at 206, and the words of a treaty must be construed “ ‘in the sense in which they would naturally be understood by the Indians,’ ” Fishing Vessel Assn., 443 U. S., at 676. If a treaty “itself defines the circumstances under which the rights would terminate,” it is to those circumstances that the Court must look to determine if the right ends at statehood. Mille Lacs, 526 U. S., at 207.

*9 Just as in Mille Lacs, there is no suggestion in the text of the 1868 Treaty with the Crow Tribe that the parties intended the hunting right to expire at statehood. The treaty identifies four situations that would terminate the right: (1) the lands are no longer “unoccupied”; (2) the lands no longer belong to the United States; (3) game can no longer “be found thereon”; and (4) the Tribe and non-Indians are no longer at “peace ... on the borders of the hunting districts.” Art. IV, 15 Stat. 650. Wyoming’s statehood does not appear in this list. Nor is there any hint in the treaty that any of these conditions would necessarily be satisfied at statehood. See Mille Lacs, 526 U. S., at 207.

The historical record likewise does not support the State’s position. See Choctaw Nation v. United States, 318 U. S. 423, 431–432 (1943) (explaining that courts “may look beyond the written words to the history of the treaty, the negotiations, and the practical construction adopted by the parties” to determine a treaty’s meaning). Crow Tribe leaders emphasized the importance of the hunting right in the 1867 negotiations, see, e.g., Proceedings 88, and Commissioner Taylor assured them that the Tribe would have “the right to hunt upon [the ceded land] as long as the game lasts,” id., at 86. Yet despite the apparent importance of the hunting right to the negotiations, Wyoming points to no evidence that federal negotiators ever proposed that the right would end at statehood. This silence is especially telling because five States encompassing lands west of the Mississippi River—Nebraska, Nevada, Kansas, Oregon, and Minnesota—had been admitted to the Union in just the preceding decade. See ch. 36, 14 Stat. 391 (Nebraska, Feb. 9, 1867); Presidential Proclamation No. 22, 13 Stat. 749 (Nevada, Oct. 31, 1864); ch. 20, 12 Stat. 126 (Kansas, Jan. 29, 1861); ch. 33, 11 Stat. 383 (Oregon, Feb. 14, 1859); ch. 31, 11 Stat. 285 (Minnesota, May 11, 1858). Federal negotiators had every reason to bring up statehood if they intended it to extinguish the Tribe’s hunting rights.

[14]In the face of this evidence, Wyoming nevertheless contends that the 1868 Treaty expired at statehood pursuant to the Mille Lacs analysis. Wyoming does not argue that the legal act of Wyoming’s statehood abrogated the treaty right, and it cannot contend that statehood is explicitly identified as a treaty expiration point. Instead, Wyoming draws on historical sources to assert that statehood, as a practical matter, marked the arrival of “civilization” in the Wyoming Territory and thus rendered all the lands in the State occupied. Brief for Respondent 48. This claim cannot be squared with Mille Lacs.

Wyoming’s arguments boil down to an attempt to read the treaty impliedly to terminate at statehood, precisely as Mille Lacs forbids. The State sets out a potpourri of evidence that it claims shows statehood in 1890 effectively coincided with the disappearance of the wild frontier: for instance, that the buffalo were extinct by the mid-1870s; that by 1880, Indian Department regulations instructed Indian agents to confine tribal members “ ‘wholly within the limits of their respective reservations’ ”; and that the Crow Tribe stopped hunting off-reservation altogether in 1886. Brief for Respondent 47 (quoting § 237 Instructions to Indian Agents (1880), as published in Regulations of the Indian Dept. § 492 (1884)).

Herrera contradicts this account, see Reply Brief for Petitioner 5, n. 3, and the historical record is by no means clear. For instance, game appears to have persisted for longer than Wyoming suggests. See Dept. of Interior, Ann. Rep. of the Comm’r of Indian Affairs 495 (1873) (Black Foot: “On the other side of the river below, there are plenty of buffalo; on the mountains are plenty of elk and black-tail deer; and white-tail deer are plenty at the foot of the mountain”). As for the Indian Department Regulations, there are reports that a group of Crow Tribe members “regularly hunted along the Little Bighorn River” even after the regulation the State cites was in effect. Hoxie, Parading Through History, at 26. In 1889, the Office of Indian Affairs wrote to U. S. Indian Agents in the Northwest that “[f]requent complaints have been made to this Department that Indians are in the habit of leaving their reservations for the purpose of hunting.” 28 Cong. Rec. 6231 (1896).

*10 Even assuming that Wyoming presents an accurate historical picture, the State’s mode of analysis is severely flawed. By using statehood as a proxy for occupation, Wyoming subverts this Court’s clear instruction that treaty-protected rights “are not impliedly terminated upon statehood.” Mille Lacs, 526 U. S., at 207.

Finally, to the extent that Wyoming seeks to rely on this same evidence to establish that all land in Wyoming was functionally “occupied” by 1890, its arguments fall outside the question presented and are unpersuasive in any event. As explained below, the Crow Tribe would have understood occupation to denote some form of residence or settlement. See infra, at 19–20. Furthermore, Wyoming cannot rely on Race Horse to equate occupation with statehood, because that case’s reasoning rested on the flawed belief that statehood could not coexist with a continuing treaty right. See Race Horse, 163 U. S., at 514; Mille Lacs, 526 U. S., at 207–208.

Applying Mille Lacs, this is not a hard case. The Wyoming Statehood Act did not abrogate the Crow Tribe’s hunting right, nor did the 1868 Treaty expire of its own accord at that time. The treaty itself defines the circumstances in which the right will expire. Statehood is not one of them.

 

Vernellia R. Randall
Founder and Editor
Professor Emerita of Law
The University of Dayton School of Law

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