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April 2009: Bill T. Sweet v Maryanne Hinzman

In a legal first, tribal members have been victorious in Federal court challenging a tribal banishment action. On April 30, 2009, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington granted the Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by nine Snoqualmie Tribal members challenging a banishment imposed by the government of the Snoqualmie Tribe in May last year. The Court held that the Tribe's government violated the Petitioners' due process rights under the Indian Civil Rights Act and vacated the full banishment. As a result, the Petitioners' membership in the Tribe, as well as their benefits, are restored. The Court also imposed a time restriction on a pre-existing social banishment that prevented the Petitioners from coming onto tribal land and attending tribal events. The Court reduced the open-ended social banishment to 90 days, further vindicating and protecting the tribal members' Indian civil rights. The decision comes after the first trial held in Federal court under the 1968 Indian Civil Rights Act seeking relief from a tribal banishment action. This is the first Federal court decision to overturn a banishment after trial upon a finding of a denial of due process. Tribal banishments and disenrollments have been increasing in frequency in recent years. The decision could have profound effects on the way tribal governments treat their tribal members, hopefully leading to greater respect for Indian civil rights.

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