Oneida Nation claims victory in Federal court

Highly publicized legal challenges by Assemblyman David Townsend, Oneida County Legislator Michael J. Hennessy and the Central NY Fair Business Association to the May 2008 decision by the U.S. Department of Interior taking 13,000 acres of land into trust for the benefit of the Oneida Indian Nation were dealt a severe blow in a March 1 decision by U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence E. Kahn.

The federal court upheld the constitutionality of trust land in New York State, reaffirmed that the Oneida reservation was never disestablished, rejected challenges to the legality of gaming at Turning Stone, denied challenges to the DOI's transfer of the 18 acre "Verona test site" parcel into trust, and dropped all claims against Oneida Nation Representative Ray Halbritter.

"Although the preferred outcome was a negotiated resolution, Oneida County's legislature became convinced it could fare better in the litigation," stated Mark Emery, director of media relations for the Oneida Nation. "In the absence of a resolution, the Nation obviously is very pleased with this ruling, as it moves the trust land challenges significantly closer to closure."

In response to the ruling, Assemblyman David Townsend issued the following response.

"A March 1 ruling by the U.S. District Court dealing with the Central New York Fair Business Association's challenge to the Oneida Nation's land-into-trust action is a disappointment to those of us concerned about the constitutionality of the federal government's proposed 13,000-plus-acre land transfer," said Assemblyman David Townsend (R,WF-Sylvan Beach).

"My personal view has always been that an appeal to the higher courts is the proper legal course in such serious matters of federalism and tax fairness. Now that a lower federal court has made its decision, this case ought to be given a full hearing by the U.S. Supreme Court, just as the ultimately successful 8-to-1 City of Sherrill lawsuit received,"

"Clearly, an issue of this magnitude and potential economic impact to the families, businesses, and taxpayers of Central New York, as well as the people of the Oneida Nation reservation, should be allowed its day before the High Court. Had the March 1 decision gone the other way I am certain the Oneida leadership would now be exploring options similar to those of the Fair Business Association and its supporters."

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