High Court Takes Up Native American Tax Case

WASHINGTON (CN) – The state of Washington will head to the U.S. Supreme Court next term for the right to tax a fuel distributor owned by a Native American tribe.

As noted in the state’s petition for certiorari, Cougar Den is owned by the Yakama Indian Nation but imports millions of gallons of fuel into Washington every year for sale to the general public.

The Yakama’s 1855 treaty with the United States gave the tribe the right to travel upon all public highways, but Ninth Circuit precedent holds that such language does not exempt the Yakama from taxes or state fees on off-reservation commercial activities.

Washington says the language is limited to ensuring that tribal members do not pay a fee to travel on public highways, but the Washington Supreme Court ruled last year that it means states cannot tax Yakama trade that requires the use of public roads.

Per its custom the U.S. Supreme Court did not issue any comment Monday in taking up the case.

Washington Solicitor General Noah Purcell represents the state. Stokes Lawrence attorney Matthew Harrington represents Cougar Den.

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