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American Indians and Alaska Natives - Public Law 280 Tribes

Published: March 19, 2014
Fact Sheet
  • In 1953, Congress enacted Public Law 83-280 to grant certain states criminal jurisdiction over Indians on reservations and to allow civil litigation that had come under tribal or federal court jurisdiction to be handled by state courts. The law did not grant states regulatory power over tribes or lands held in trust by the United States; federally guaranteed tribal hunting, trapping, and fishing rights; basic tribal governmental functions such as enrollment and domestic relations; nor the power to impose state taxes. 
  • The states required by Public Law 280 to assume civil and criminal jurisdiction over federal Indian lands (mandatory Public Law 280 states) were Alaska (except the Metlakatla Indian Community on the Annette Island Reserve, which maintains criminal jurisdiction), California, Minnesota (except the Red Lake Reservation), Nebraska, Oregon (except the Warm Springs Reservation), and Wisconsin.  The federal government gave up all special criminal jurisdictions in these states over Indian offenders and victims.  The states that elected to assume full or partial jurisdiction (optional Public Law 280 states) were Arizona (1967), Florida (1961), Idaho (1963, subject to tribal consent), Iowa (1967), Montana (1963), Nevada (1955), North Dakota (1963, subject to tribal consent), South Dakota (1957-1961), Utah (1971), and Washington (1957-1963).
  • From its enactment, Public Law 280 was opposed by Indian Nations due to the one-sided process which imposed state jurisdiction on tribes and the complete failure to recognize tribal sovereignty and tribal self-determination. When he signed it into law, even President Eisenhower expressed misgivings about the lack of tribal consent and urged immediate amendment of the law to require tribal referenda - no such amendment passed Congress until 1968.
  • It is important to note that Public Law 280 only altered the allocation of federal and state criminal jurisdiction.  It did not reduce nor expand tribal criminal jurisdiction.
  • Subsequent acts of Congress, court decisions, and state actions to retrocede (or give back) jurisdiction back to the federal government have mitigated some of the effects of the 1953 law and strengthened tribes’ jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters on their reservations.
  • Public Law 280 added to a complex matrix of jurisdictional conflict that defined the prosecution of crimes and civil litigation at the end of the 20th century. In various states, a mix of local police, tribal police, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police, and the FBI are the arms of a law enforcement system that enforce laws of tribes, states and the federal government.
  • The Tribal Law and Order Act (TLOA) is a comprehensive federal law that is intended to improve public safety in Indian country.  Section 221 of TLOA authorizes tribal governments to request that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) re-assume federal criminal jurisdiction over that tribe’s Indian country.  If the DOJ grants the request, the federal government may once again prosecute criminal cases from that reservation, located in a mandatory Public Law 280 jurisdiction.