Holding: The federal government must pay in full each tribe’s contract support costs incurred by a tribal contractor under the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, 25 U.S.C. § 450, even if Congress has failed to appropriate sufficient funds to cover all of the contract support costs owed to all tribal contractors collectively.
Plain English Summary: Every contract is a deal between two parties, and both are supposed to perform their part of the deal. That means that, if the job covered by the contract is done as it should be, then that party is entitled to be paid what has been promised. This case involved Indian tribes that sued the government because it did not pay all of the costs it had promised to cover when the two sides made their deal for the tribe to provide education and other government-like functions for their members. The Court ruled that a promise is a promise, even if the government doesn’t have immediately available enough money to pay all of the contractors it had promised to pay for their services. Congress has to locate the money to cover such a promise, the Court said.
Judgment: Affirmed, 5-4, in an opinion by Justice Sotomayor on June 18, 2012. The Chief Justice filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, and Alito joined.
Merits Briefs for the Petitioners
Merits Briefs for the Respondents
Amicus Briefs in Support of the Respondents