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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Dion - 476 U.S. 734, 106 S. Ct. 2216 (1986)


Where the evidence of congressional intent to abrogate a treaty is sufficiently compelling, the weight of authority indicates that such an intent can be found by a reviewing court from clear and reliable evidence in the legislative history of a statute. What is essential is 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.


A member of the Yankton Sioux Tribe was convicted in the United States District Court for the Southern District of South Dakota of shooting four bald eagles on the Yankton Sioux reservation in violation of the Endangered Species Act. Before trial, the District Court dismissed a charge of shooting a golden eagle in violation of the Eagle Protection Act. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, sitting en banc, held that members of the Yankton Sioux Tribe have the right, under an 1858 treaty with the United States, to hunt bald and golden eagles within their reservation for non-commercial purposes. Accordingly, the Court of Appeals reversed the convictions under the Endangered Species Act, stating that the tribe member could be convicted thereunder only upon a jury determination that the birds were killed for commercial purposes, and it affirmed the dismissal of the charge under the Eagle Protection Act.


Did the Court of Appeals err in recognizing the tribe member’s treaty defense to the prosecutions?




The Court held that the Court of Appeals erred in recognizing the tribe member's treaty defense to the prosecutions under the Eagle Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, since (1) the Eagle Protection Act is to be read as abrogating the rights of Indians to take bald and golden eagles pursuant to treaties with the United States. According to the Court, even if the Endangered Species Act did not expressly abrogate such treaty rights, the tribe member could not assert a treaty defense to a prosecution under that Act for conduct that was already explicitly prohibited under the Eagle Protection Act.

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