As regular readers know (OL Apr. 14, etc.), I've long taken an interest in the injustices that have been visited on innocent landowners in New York, Connecticut and many other states by lawsuits seeking to revive long-defunct Indian land claims. I've got a guest column in the latest Forbes ("On My Mind", May 8, reg) briefly summing up a few of the things wrong with this litigation. A sample:
Until lately Anglo-American law sought a careful balance between the goal of restoring wrongfully taken property to its rightful owners, on the one hand, and the equally valid goal of securing everyone's property against the danger that a claimant will show up some day to assert a speculative defect in title. Hence doctrines aimed at preventing old disputes from staying alive indefinitely: statutes of limitation, adverse possession, "acquiescence" in unchallenged political boundaries.
In a series of rulings over the past 30 years, however, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that Indians are wholly different from other land claimants. Law professors have cheered: What cause is more romantic than that of dispossessed Indians? (Somehow owners of small farms in upstate New York never seem to merit the underdog label.) The rulings also constitute a stunning victory for a scrappy cadre of Legal Services lawyers; a few of these antiestablishment types have found themselves, over the arc of a career, gradually transmuted through their tribal connections into highly paid casino promoters, in a transformation worthy of a Balzac or Stendhal novel.
(cross-posted from Overlawyered)