WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Friday that hundreds of millions of dollars in coronavirus relief money tied up in court should benefit Alaska Natives rather than be spread more broadly among Native American tribes around the U.S.
The justices ruled 6-3 in the case, which involved the massive pandemic relief package passed last year and signed into law by then-President Donald Trump.
The $2.2 trillion legislation earmarked $8 billion for “Tribal governments” to cover expenses related to the pandemic.
The question for the court was whether Alaska Native corporations, which are for-profit companies that provide benefits and social services to more than 100,000 Alaska Natives, count as “Indian tribes.” The high court answered yes.
“The Court today affirms what the Federal Government has maintained for almost half a century: ANCs are Indian tribes,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor for a group of both liberal and conservative members of the court.
According to the Associated Press, both the Trump administration and the Biden administration have agreed that Native corporations should be treated as Indian tribes. However, after the CARES Act was passed, three Native American tribes sued to prevent payments to Alaska Native corporations, arguing that only federally recognized tribes qualify for aid. They claimed that the Alaska Native corporations are not sovereign governments.