Babbitt v. Youpee

519 U.S. 234, 117 S. Ct. 727 (1997)



The Supreme Court invalidated § 207 of the Indian Land Consolidation Act, 96 Stat. 2519, on the ground that it effected a taking of property without just compensation, in violation of the Fifth Amendment.


In 1983, for the purpose of ameliorating an extreme fractionation problem attending a former federal policy that had resulted in multiple ownership of single parcels of allotted Indian lands, Congress enacted the original version of 207 of the Indian Land Consolidation Act (25 USCS 2206) (the "original 207"), which required that in specified circumstances, a small interest in such a fractionated parcel had to escheat  to an Indian tribe upon the death of the owner of the interest. However, in Hodel v Irving (1987) 481 US 704, 95 L Ed 2d 668, 107 S Ct 2076, the United States Supreme Court held that the original 207 effected a taking of private property without just compensation, in violation of the Federal Constitution's Fifth Amendment.  In 1984, Congress had enacted some amendments to 207 (the "amended 207").  In 1990, a member of the Sioux and Assiniboine Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana died and left a will, which devised each of his several undivided interests in allotted lands to a single descendant. These interests were valued together at $ 1,239 and were determined in an administrative proceeding to be subject to escheat under the amended 207. The deceased member's children and potential heirs--after unsuccessfully attempting to raise a constitutional challenge to the amended 207 in the administrative proceeding--then (1) filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of Montana, (2) named the Secretary of the Interior as a defendant, and (3) alleged that the amended 207 violated the Fifth Amendment's just compensation clause. The District Court agreed and granted a request for declaratory and injunctive relief. On appeal, the court affirmed. On certiorari, the US Supreme Court affirmed. 


Did the trial court err in ruling that the amendments to § 207 were unconstitutional?




The court affirmed the judgment of the lower court because it determined that § 207 was invalid; it effected a taking of property without just compensation in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The court previously had invalidated the statute prior to its amendment. The court determined that the narrow revisions that Congress made to the statute did not warrant a different disposition. The amended 207 did not cure the constitutional deficiency which had been identified in Hodel v Irving.

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