Chickasaw Nation: Interpreting a Broken Statute

11 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2002 Last revised: 26 Feb 2009

See all articles by Erik M. Jensen

Erik M. Jensen

Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Date Written: 2002


This report discusses the Supreme Court's 2001 decision in Chickasaw Nation v. United States, in which the Supreme Court interpreted a provision of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that contained contradictory phrases - one suggesting that Indian tribes were exempt from some occupational and excise taxes and one suggesting the contrary. The statute on its face made no sense, and the legislative history was of little help in resolving the ambiguity. Although the statute was clearly broken, the Court concluded that no ambiguity existed and that Congress did not intend to exempt tribes from those various wagering taxes. The author argues that in coming to that conclusion, the Court gave insufficient weight to the Indian canons of construction, which are intended to deal with precisely this sort of ambiguous situation; indeed, the Court downplayed the significance of the time-honored canons. Furthermore, the author argues that the Court incorrectly assumed that Indian tribes, absent express statutory language to the contrary, are routinely subject to generally applicable federal taxes.

Keywords: Chickasaw Nation v. United States, Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Indian Tribes, Taxation, Indian Canons of Construction

JEL Classification: K34, K41

Suggested Citation

Jensen, Erik M., Chickasaw Nation: Interpreting a Broken Statute (2002). Tax Notes, Vol. 97, p. 1195, 2002; Exempt Organization Tax Review, Vol. 39, p. 37, 2003. Available at SSRN:

Erik M. Jensen (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

11075 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106-7148
United States
216-368-3613 (Phone)
216-368-2086 (Fax)

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