Tohono O'odham Nation wants court to void new state law on annexation - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Tohono O'odham Nation wants court to void new state law on annexation

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Posted: Friday, February 11, 2011 12:07 pm | Updated: 11:04 pm, Fri Feb 11, 2011.

The Tohono O'odham Nation is asking a federal judge to void a new state law that allows Glendale to annex the property on which the tribe wants to build a casino.

Attorneys for the tribe contend the measure, signed earlier this month by Gov. Jan Brewer, violates both state and federal constitutional provisions. They also said it is in direct contravention of a 1986 federal law that specifically authorized the tribe to buy land and have it included in the reservation.

Aside from seeking to overturn the law, the tribe wants the court to block Glendale from annexing the property, a move that would thwart the planned casino.

The lawsuit is not a surprise. Tribal Chairman Ned Norris Jr. had written the governor last month, before she signed the measure, warning her that the issue would wind up in court.

But Brewer press aide Matthew Benson said his boss is not worried.

"The governor believes the law is constitutional and she's confident the state will prevail in court," he said.

At the heart of the fight is a plan by the tribe to erect a casino on land it purchased in 2003.

That purchase was specifically authorized by federal law in 1986 after a dam project flooded close to 10,000 acres of reservation land at the tribe's San Lucy District near Gila Bend. Congress said the Tohono could purchase replacement acreage anywhere in Maricopa, Pinal or Pima counties. And there was no mandate that it be adjacent to the existing reservation.

The law also allows the tribe to petition to have any newly acquired lands made part of the reservation - but only if the land is not within the limits of any city.

That reservation status is necessary before the tribe can legally operate a casino there.

A state judge subsequently ruled that part of the 135 acres the tribe bought at the edge of the city is, in fact, within Glendale's limits. But that still left about 54 acres to build the facility.

State law generally requires the consent of a majority of landowners to annex any property. This new law, however, says any community in a county of at least 350,000 may annex any land on which it borders on three sides if the owner of that land has petitioned the federal government to have it made part of the reservation.

Proponents made no secret that it was crafted so narrowly as to apply specifically to Glendale - and specifically to the Tohono parcel. And they admitted they rushed it through in hopes of having it take effect before a judge rules in another federal lawsuit challenging the right of the tribe to build a casino there.

Jonathan Jantzen, the Tohono O'odham attorney general, pointed out the Arizona Constitution prohibits lawmakers from enacting "special laws" affecting only a single person or entity. Jantzen said that, as far as he can ascertain, the only parcel of land that would be affected is the one owned by the tribe.

Separately, the tribe argues that the Arizona law violates the tribe's "due process" rights under the U.S. Constitution. He said the new law's "transparent purpose is to thwart the (Tohono) nation's ability to exercise its rights under federal law."

That separate federal case involves a lawsuit by Glendale and the Gila River Indian Community contending the U.S. Department of Interior was wrong in agreeing last year to let the Tohono O'odham Nation make the land part of the reservation. A hearing is set for this coming week.

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