WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court on Monday rejected appeals by American Indians to step into a decade-old lawsuit accusing the government of mismanaging more than $100 billion in oil, gas, timber and other royalties from their lands.
The justices declined to disturb an appeals court ruling that removed U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth from the case. The appeals court said Lamberth, who held successive Democratic and Republican Interior Department secretaries in contempt of court, had lost his objectivity in the case.
The court also refused to review another appeals court ruling that reversed Lamberth's order that the Interior Department disconnect its computers from the Internet for failing to provide adequate security for the Indians' trust records.
The class-action suit, filed in 1996 by Blackfeet Indian Elouise Cobell, deals with individual Indians' lands. Several tribes have also sued, claiming mismanagement of their lands.
Earlier this month the government proposed paying $7 billion to settle the lawsuits, but only roughly half of that would go to the plaintiffs. Lawmakers have said they plan hearings on the proposal. The Indians have said they would accept $27.5 billion to end the litigation.
The cases are Cobell v. Kempthorne, 06-867, 06-868.