Breaking News

Two new cases granted

UPDATE:  The Court has announced that it will issue opinions in argued cases on both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.  Further orders from today’s Conference will be issued at 10 a.m. Monday.


The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to clarify when police may use a drug-sniffing dog at the front door of a house, when police believe the house is being used in drug trafficking.  In a second new case, the Court agreed to rule on the federal government’s legal duty to repay Indian tribes all of what they actually spend when they run a federal program in place of a government agency.  The cases were not expedited, but still appear likely to be heard in the Court’s April sitting, which begins April 16 and runs through April 25.  The order list is here.

In the drug detection case, Florida v. Jardines (docket 11-564), the Court agreed to decide one of the two questions raised.  The constitutional issue at stake is whether police must have probable cause — a belief that evidence of a crime will be found — before they may use a dog sniff at the front door of a suspected “grow house,” or a site where marijuana is being grown.  The case grows out of a Miami police officer’s use of a drug-detecting dog, “Franky,” in December 2006 to follow up on a “crime stoppers” tip that the house was being used to grow marijuana plants.  The Florida Supreme Court ruled that police needed to have probable cause belief in wrongdoing before they could use the dog at the home, on the premise that the drug sniff was a “search” under the Fourth Amendment.

The state of Florida told the Supreme Court that the state ruling conflicts with Supreme Court precedent that a dog sniff is not a search under the Fourth Amendment.  “This Court,” the state said, “has explained that a dog sniff is not a search because the sole knowledge that the dog obtains by sniffing is the presence of contraband, which a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in possessing in the first place.”   The petition cited the Court’s 2005 decision in Illinois v. Caballes, and argued that the Florida courts “are now alone in refusing to follow” that ruling.

In granting review of the probable cause issue, the Court opted not to hear a second question, testing whether police had engaged in a search simply by remaining outside the house while awaiting a search warrant.  As is customary, the Court on Friday did not explain the refusal to hear that issue.

The Indian case, a petition by the federal Interior Department, involves a 1975 federal law that Congress passed to give Indian tribes a greater role in running government programs for the benefit of tribal members.  The law, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, allows Indian tribes to contract with the Interior Department to take over operation of a federal program or service, with Interior to put up the money that the government would have spent itself on that activity.   In 1988, Congress also provided that Interior must also provide funds to pay the administrative costs that the tribe incurs in operating the program, such as audit or reporting duties, and general overhead.

That separate funding provision, however, is made contingent upon Congress providing the necessary appropriations to pay for it.  And, in 1999, Congress provided that there would be caps on the amount of contract support costs that Interior would cover for a tribe.  Congress has imposed such caps for each of the past 15 years.

The issue in the newly granted case, Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter (11-551), is whether the government must pay everything that it has promised in such a contract with a tribe, including support costs, without regard to whether that goes beyond a cap imposed by Congress — provided that the government can find the money elsewhere in the government.  The Interior Department’s petition urged the Court to take the case and rule that Interior cannot be required to pay tribes beyond what the cap allows because that intrudes upon Congress’s constitutional authority to decide when and how to spend federal money.

In the programs at issue specifically in the case, the Ramah Navajo Chapter, the Oglala Sioux Tribe, and the Pueblo of Zuni had a contract with Interior to operate for tribal members a series of federal programs: for law enforcement, court operation, education assistance, land management, probate assistance, natural resource services, employment aid, child welfare assistance, operation of emergency youth centers, and juvenile detention services.  The tribes sued over unpaid direct contract support costs for the fiscal years 1994 through 2001, in which congressional caps were in place.



Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Two new cases granted, SCOTUSblog (Jan. 6, 2012, 12:11 PM),