Supreme Court Rules Alaska Natives Eligible for Covid-19 Relief Funds

The Supreme Court reversed a ruling by a federal appeals court last year.


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WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that hundreds of millions of dollars in Covid-19 relief should be available to Alaska Natives who are members of village and regional tribal corporations that provide for their interests.

The justices separately allowed small petroleum refineries to obtain exemptions to government mandates that they blend ethanol and other plant-based fuels into gasoline and diesel, a blow to the biofuels industry.

At issue in the Alaska case was how to interpret a part of the 2020 Cares Act in which Congress steered $8 billion in relief funds to tribal governments. The legislation prompted legal battles over the allocation of the money, with federally recognized tribes in the Lower 48 states and Alaska filing lawsuits that argued Native Alaskan corporations weren’t eligible.

Under a unique system dating back to the 1970s, the federal government allowed for the creation of the Native corporations as part of a comprehensive U.S. settlement of Native land claims. The corporations received land and other rights and allocated shares to local Native residents.

A federal appeals court last year ruled the Alaska Native Corporations weren’t eligible for the relief funds under the language that Congress wrote. The Supreme Court reversed that ruling, in a 6-3 opinion written by Justice

Sonia Sotomayor.

“The court today affirms what the federal government has maintained for almost half a century: ANCs are Indian tribes” under the relevant federal law, Justice Sotomayor wrote. “For that reason, they are Indian tribes under the CARES Act and eligible for…funding.”

The ethanol decision also came on a 6-3 vote, with Justice

Neil Gorsuch

writing a majority opinion that said small refineries could obtain exemptions to the renewable fuel mandates even if their prior exemptions had lapsed. The Environmental Protection Agency acted reasonably in granting the exemptions at issue in the case, the court said.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote the dissent.

The mandates have been a thorny political issue for years, particularly on the Republican side of the aisle. Oil refineries say the blending requirements are too costly, while corn and soy growers, for whom biofuels are big business, say the rules are important for diversifying the U.S. fuel supply.

Write to Brent Kendall at

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

Appeared in the June 26, 2021, print edition as ‘Native Alaskans Can Get Virus Aid.’

Source: WSJ – US News

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