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Federal Indian trust litigation

The U.S. Department of the Interior has been on trial for 12 years (!) for historically mismanaging the financial interests of Indian tribes, which it holds in trust; while observers from many political perspectives have agreed in criticizing the past mishandling of funds, there has been no consensus on how to evaluate or remedy the resulting losses. Now Judge James Robertson has set damages at $455 million, which is close to the government's own estimates and far from the $47 billion the tribes were demanding. Wrote the judge, in language that may possibly have some resonance in other reparations settings: "The Cobell case will no doubt stand, in some respects, as a cautionary tale about the limited ability of a court to right historical wrongs that could have been - and should have been - settled by the same political branches in recognition of their own failure to preserve the trust".

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Katherine Lazarski
Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.