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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Cherokee Nation, 480 U.S. 700 (1987)

United States v. Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma

No. 86-1940

Argued February 28, 1987

Decided March 31, 1987

480 U.S. 700


Choctaw Nation v. Oklahoma, 397 U. S. 620, held that, under pertinent treaties with the Federal Government, certain Indian Tribes, including respondent Tribe, were granted title to the riverbed underlying portions of the Arkanas River in Oklahoma. The Government's construction of a navigable channel in the river damaged respondent's riverbed mineral interests. After unsuccessfully seeking compensation from the Government, respondent filed suit in Federal District Court, contending that the channel project resulted in a taking under the Fifth Amendment of respondent's riverbed interests without just compensation. Granting summary judgment for respondent, the court rejected, on the basis of Choctaw Nation, the Government's defense that its navigational servitude under the Commerce Clause precluded liability for the alleged taking, and held that, under the relevant treaties, the Government had not reserved its navigational servitude. The Court of Appeals affirmed, adopting a different analysis. It found that the Government retained a navigational servitude in the river, but that -- balancing the public and private interests involved -- the servitude was insufficient to protect the Government from liability to compensate respondent.

Held: No "balancing" test, as formulated by the Court of Appeals, is required where, as here, the interference with in-stream interests results from an exercise of the Government's Commerce Clause power to regulate navigational uses of waters. The proper exercise of the Government's navigational servitude is not an invasion of any private property rights in the stream or the lands underlying it, for the damage sustained does not result from taking property from riparian owners within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment, but from the lawful exercise of a power to which the riparian owners' interests are subject. Contrary to respondent's contention, the decision in Choctaw Nation does not support the conclusion that respondent's title to the riverbed is unique in scope, or that, under the pertinent treaties, the Government abandoned its navigational servitude in the area. Moreover, the Government's fiduciary obligations in dealing with Indian tribal property do not elevate the Government's actions into a taking. The tribal interests here simply do not chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 480 U. S. 701

include the right to be free from the Government's navigational servitude. 480 U. S. 703-708.

782 F.2d 871, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, C.J.,delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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