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Cayuga County, Seneca County, the village of Union Springs and the town of Springport have wisely decided to intervene in yet another crucial U.S. Supreme Court case that considers issues related American Indian-owned property.

Going back decades, two tribes have purchased land parcels in Cayuga and Seneca counties and asserted sovereignty over them, meaning they believe they are exempt from all local and state laws, including the obligation to pay taxes. They've made this claim despite the integration of these properties into the communities, as they are served by municipal public safety and other government services.

That's a big problem, and it's one that the courts have largely kicked around in a totally haphazard manner.

For us, the most important decision on the books was the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling involving the Oneida Indian Nation and the city of Sherrill over property taxes. In that decision, the high court wisely ruled that scattered parcels purchased within a municipality cannot be automatically exempt from any state and local jurisdiction.

"The unilateral reestablishment of present and future Indian sovereign control, even over land purchased at the market price, would have disruptive practical consequences. ... Sherrill and the surrounding area are today overwhelmingly populated by non-Indians, and a checkerboard of state and tribal jurisdiction–created unilaterally at OIN’s behest–would 'seriously burde[n] the administration of state and local governments' and would adversely affect landowners neighboring the tribal patches."

A new case that will be argued later this month in front of the Supreme Court involves an Indian nation in the state of Washington in a dispute with a couple that owns land adjacent to newly acquired property. The couple is attempting to assert it has legal rights to some of the land. The tribe is adamant that it is exempt from any such legal challenges.

The Cayuga Nation of New York, the largest Indian nation landowner in Cayuga County, is part of a "friend of the court" brief arguing on the tribe's side.

In the interest of protecting the rights and ensuring fairness for landowners, the municipalities put their own brief in, as well.

"The divestiture of local government jurisdiction that is occurring piecemeal in the village of Union Springs and elsewhere in central New York will be repeated across the country if Indian tribes are free to buy land anywhere, refuse to pay taxes, and — by asserting sovereign immunity from suit — face no consequence," the brief says.

This sums up the issue perfectly, and we're glad our local elected leaders had the foresight to see the importance of being part of these crucial legal battles.

The Citizen Editorial Board includes publisher Rob Forcey, managing editor Mike Dowd and executive editor Jeremy Boyer.

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