A federal judge has ruled that the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe has the right to participate in certain future court proceedings related to the lawsuit seeking to block its East Taunton casino project.
Last month, the tribe’s legal team filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Boston seeking a role in any future court action related to a July judgment against the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision to take land in Taunton and Mashpee into trust for the tribe’s initial reservation. Judge William Young allowed that motion Friday.
“This is an important legal victory,” Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Council Chairman Cedric Cromwell said. “It allows us to directly participate in the case.”
The tribe’s involvement is limited to the judgment Young made in July, according to the ruling.
The suit was brought earlier this year by East Taunton neighbors after the Interior Department approved 151 acres in the city as part of an initial reservation. The land in Taunton was to be used for First Light Resort & Casino.
In July, Young sent the decision back to the Interior Department, rejecting its reliance on a second definition of Indian in the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934. Interior officials had used that definition to bypass a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, known as the Carcieri decision, that called into question the federal government’s ability to take land into trust for tribes recognized after 1934. The Mashpee tribe was federally acknowledged in 2007.
Construction at the casino site has been suspended.
Michelle Littlefield, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit opposing the tribe, said she was not surprised by the judge’s decision to allow the tribe to participate in court proceedings.
“This judge is extremely fair and we weren’t surprised by his decision,” she said. “It really doesn’t matter who participates in the case. The bottom line is that this tribe has never qualified for land in trust. … That can’t be changed.”
The U.S. Department of Justice filed a motion last month asking Young to reconsider part of his ruling that essentially halted construction on the casino project, but he has not ruled on it.
Cape Cod Times