Agency Pragmatism in Addressing Law's Failure: The Curious Case of Federal 'Deemed Approvals' of Tribal-State Gaming Compacts
54 Pages Posted: 18 Jan 2019 Last revised: 27 Mar 2019
Date Written: January 17, 2019
In the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 (IGRA), Congress imposed a decision-forcing mechanism on the Secretary of the Interior related to tribal-state compacts for Indian gaming. Congress authorized the Secretary to review such compacts and approve or disapprove each compact within forty-five days of submission. Under an unusual provision of law, however, if the Secretary fails to act within forty-five days, the compact is “deemed approved” by operation of law but only to the extent that it is lawful. In a curious development, this regime has been used in a different manner than Congress intended. Since the United States Supreme Court held part of IGRA unconstitutional in 1996, the Secretary declined to issue an affirmative approval or disapproval on more than seventy-five occasions—thus, allowing a compact to become approved by operation of law—but has simultaneously issued a letter setting forth legal objections to aspects of the compact. The Secretary’s creative response to a broken regulatory scheme appears to be unique, and it raises interesting questions about how the executive branch should behave in the face of legal uncertainty. It raises questions of administrative law, such as whether the Secretary’s non-action is reviewable as agency action under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), whether the Secretary’s letter is entitled to deference, and if so, what level of deference. It also raises important questions about whether such action constitutes good policy. This Article examines some of those questions.
Keywords: Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988, Administrative Procedure Act, Indian Gaming, Indian Law
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation