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decided: April 29, 1965.



Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Goldberg

Author: Black

[ 380 U.S. Page 685]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Arizona has levied a tax of 2% on the "gross proceeds of sales, or gross income" of appellant Warren Trading Post Company, which does a retail trading business with

[ 380 U.S. Page 686]

     Indians on the Arizona part of the Navajo Indian Reservation under a license granted by the United States Commissioner of Indian Affairs pursuant to 19 Stat. 200, 25 U. S. C. § 261 (1958 ed.).*fn1 Appellant claimed that as applied to its income from trading with reservation Indians on the reservation the state tax was invalid as (1) in violation of Art. I, § 8, cl. 3, of the United States Constitution, which provides that "Congress shall have Power . . . To regulate Commerce . . . with the Indian Tribes"; (2) inconsistent with the comprehensive congressional plan, enacted under authority of Art. I, § 8, to regulate Indian trade and traders and to have Indian tribes on reservations govern themselves. The State Supreme Court rejected these contentions and upheld the tax, one Justice dissenting. 95 Ariz. 110, 387 P. 2d 809. The case is properly here on appeal under 28 U. S. C. § 1257 (2) (1958 ed.). Since we hold that this state tax cannot be imposed consistently with federal statutes applicable to the Indians on the Navajo Reservation, we find it unnecessary to consider whether the tax is also barred by that part of the Commerce Clause giving Congress power to regulate commerce with the Indian tribes.

The Navajo Reservation was set apart as a "permanent home" for the Navajos in a treaty made with the "Navajo nation or tribe of Indians" on June 1, 1868.*fn2 Long before that, in fact from the very first days of our Government, the Federal Government had been permitting the Indians largely to govern themselves, free from state

[ 380 U.S. Page 687]

     interference,*fn3 and had exercised through statutes and treaties*fn4 a sweeping and dominant control over persons who wished to trade with Indians and Indian tribes. As

[ 380 U.S. Page 688]

     Chief Justice John Marshall recognized in Worcester v. Georgia, 6 Pet. 515, 556-557:

"From the commencement of our government, congress has passed acts to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indians; which treat them as nations, respect their rights, and manifest a firm purpose to afford that protection which treaties stipulate."

He went on to say that:

"The treaties and laws of the United States contemplate the Indian territory as completely separated from that of the states; and provide that all intercourse with them shall be carried on exclusively by the government of the union." Id., at 557.

See also, e. g., United States v. Forty-three Gallons of Whiskey, 93 U.S. 188. In the very first volume of the federal statutes is found an Act, passed in 1790 by the first Congress, "to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes," requiring that Indian traders obtain a license from a federal official, and specifying in detail the conditions on which such licenses would be granted.*fn5

Such comprehensive federal regulation of Indian traders has continued from that day to this.*fn6 Existing statutes make specific restrictions on trade with the Indians,*fn7 and

[ 380 U.S. Page 689]

     one of them, passed in 1876 and tracing back to comprehensive enactments of 1802*fn8 and 1834,*fn9 provides that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs shall have "the sole power and authority to appoint traders to the Indian tribes" and to specify "the kind and quantity of goods and the prices at which such goods shall be sold to the Indians."*fn10 Acting under authority of this statute and one added in 1901,*fn11 the Commissioner has promulgated detailed regulations prescribing in the most minute fashion who may qualify to be a trader and how he shall be licensed; penalties for acting as a trader without a license; conditions under which government employees may trade with Indians; articles that cannot be sold to Indians; and conduct forbidden on a licensed trader's premises.*fn12 He has ordered that detailed business records be kept and that government officials be allowed to inspect these records to make sure that prices charged are fair and reasonable; that traders pay Indians in money; that bonds be executed by proposed licensees; and that the governing body of an Indian reservation may assess from a trader "such fees, etc., as it may deem appropriate."*fn13

[ 380 U.S. Page 690]

     It was under these comprehensive statutes and regulations that the Commissioner of Indian Affairs licensed appellant to trade with the Indians on the Navajo Reservation. These apparently all-inclusive regulations and the statutes authorizing them would seem in themselves sufficient to show that Congress has taken the business of Indian trading on reservations so fully in hand that no room remains for state laws imposing additional burdens upon traders.*fn14 In fact, the Solicitor's Office of the Department of the Interior in 1940*fn15 and again in 1943*fn16 interpreted these statutes to bar States from taxing federally licensed Indian traders on their sales to reservation Indians on a reservation. We think those rulings were correct.

Congress has, since the creation of the Navajo Reservation nearly a century ago, left the Indians on it largely free to run the reservation and its affairs without state control, a policy which has automatically relieved Arizona of all burdens for carrying on those same responsibilities. And in compliance with its treaty obligations the Federal Government has provided for roads, education and other services needed by the Indians.*fn17 We

[ 380 U.S. Page 691]

     think the assessment and collection of this tax would to a substantial extent frustrate the evident congressional purpose of ensuring that no burden shall be imposed upon Indian traders for trading with Indians on reservations except as authorized by Acts of Congress or by valid regulations promulgated under those Acts. This state tax on gross income would put financial burdens on appellant or the Indians with whom it deals in addition to those Congress or the tribes have prescribed, and could thereby disturb and disarrange the statutory plan Congress set up in order to protect Indians against prices deemed unfair or unreasonable by the Indian Commissioner. And since federal legislation has left the State with no duties or responsibilities respecting the reservation Indians, we cannot believe that Congress intended to leave to the State the privilege of levying this tax.*fn18 Insofar as they are applied to this federally licensed Indian trader with respect to sales made to reservation

[ 380 U.S. Page 692]

     Indians on the reservation, these state laws imposing taxes cannot stand. Cf. Rice v. Santa Fe Elevator Corp., 331 U.S. 218. The judgment of the Supreme Court of Arizona is reversed and the cause remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

Reversed and remanded.


95 Ariz. 110, 387 P. 2d 809, reversed and remanded.

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