United States v. Washington

United States v. Washington, 384 F. Supp. 312 (W.D. Wash. 1974), aff'd, 520 F.2d 676 (9th Cir. 1975), commonly known as the Boldt Decision (from the name of the trial court judge, George Hugo Boldt), was a legal case in 1974 heard in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The case re-affirmed the rights of American Indian tribes in the state of Washington to co-manage and continue to harvest salmon and other fish under the terms of various treaties with the U.S. government. The tribes ceded their land to the United States but reserved the right to fish as they always had. This included their traditional locations off the designated reservations.

United States v. Washington
CourtUnited States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
DecidedJune 4, 1975
Full name
  • United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, Quinault Tribe of Indians, et al., Intervenors-Plaintiffs, v. State of Washington, Defendant-Appellant, Thor C. Tollefson, Director, Washington State Department of Fisheries, et al., Intervenors-Defendants, Northwest Steelheaders Council of Trout Unlimited and Gary Ellis, Intervenor-Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, Quinault Tribe of Indians, et al., Intervenors-Plaintiffs, v. State of Washington, Defendant, Thor C. Tollefson, Director, Washington State Department of Fisheries, et al., Intervenors-Defendants, Washington Reef Net Owners Association, Intervenor-Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff, Quinault Tribe of Indians, et al., Intervenors-Plaintiffs, Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, Squaxin Island Tribe of Indians, Sauk-Suiattle Indian Tribe, Skokomish Indian Tribe, Stillaguamish Tribe of Indians, Quinault Tribe of Indians, on its own behalf and on behalf of the Queets Band of Indians, Makah Indian Tribe, Lummi Indian Tribe, Hoh Tribe of Indians, Confederated Tribes And Bands of The Yakima Indian Nation, Upper Skagit River Tribe, And Quileute Indian Tribe, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. State of Washington, Defendant-Appellee, Thor C. Tollefson, Etc. et al., Intervenors-Defendants. United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, Quinault Tribe of Indians, et al., Intervenors-Plaintiffs, v. State of Washington, Defendant-Appellant, Thor C. Tollefson, Director, Washington State Department of Fisheries, et al., Intervenors-Defendants, Carl Crouse, Director of The Department of Game, The Washington State Game Commission, Intervenors-Defendants-Appellants. United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, Quinault Tribe of Indians, et al., Intervenors-Plaintiffs, v. State of Washington, Defendant-Appellant, Thor C. Tollefson, Director, Washington State Department of Fisheries, et al., Intervenors-Defendants, Thor C. Tollefson, Director, Washington State Department of Fisheries, Intervenor-Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, Quinault Tribe of Indians, et al., Plaintiffs, v. State of Washington, Defendant, Thor C. Tollefson, Director, Washington State Department of Fisheries, et al., Defendants, Washington Reef Net Owners Association, Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff, Quinault Tribe of Indians, et al., Plaintiffs, Puyallup Tribe of Puyallup Reservation, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. State of Washington, Defendant-Appellee, Thor C. Tollefson, Director, Washington State Department of Fisheries, et al., Defendants. United States of America, Plaintiff, Quinault Tribe of Indians, et al., Plaintiffs, Nisqually Indian Community of The Nisqually Reservation, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. State of Washington, Defendant-Appellee, Thor C. Tollefson, Director, Washington State Department of Fisheries, et al., Defendants
Citation(s)520 F.2d 676
Case history
Prior history384 F. Supp. 312 (W.D. Wash. 1974)
Subsequent historyCert. denied, 423 U.S. 1086 (1976).
Holding
"[The] state could regulate fishing rights guaranteed to the Indians only to the extent necessary to preserve a particular species in a particular run; that trial court did not abuse its discretion in apportioning the opportunity to catch fish between whites and Indians on a 50-50 basis; that trial court properly excluded Indians' catch on their reservations from apportionment; and that certain tribes were properly recognized as descendants of treaty signatories and thus entitled to rights under the treaties. [Affirmed and remanded]."
Court membership
Judge(s) sittingHerbert Choy, Alfred Goodwin, and District Judge James M. Burns (sitting by designation)
Case opinions
MajorityChoy
ConcurrenceBurns

As the time went by, the State of Washington had infringed on the treaty rights of the tribes despite losing a series of court cases on the issue. Those cases provided the Indigenous peoples a right of access through private property to their fishing locations, and said that the state could neither charge the Indigenous peoples a fee to fish nor discriminate against the tribes in the method of fishing allowed. Those cases also provided for the Indigenous peoples' rights to a fair and equitable share of the harvest. The Boldt decision further defined that reserved right, holding that the tribes were entitled to half the fish harvest each year.

In 1975, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Boldt's ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case. After the state refused to enforce the court order, Judge Boldt ordered the United States Coast Guard and federal law enforcement agencies to enforce his rulings. On July 2, 1979, the Supreme Court rejected a collateral attack[fn 1] on the case, largely endorsing Judge Boldt's ruling and the opinion of the Ninth Circuit. In Washington v. Washington State Commercial Passenger Fishing Vessel Ass'n, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote that "[b]oth sides have a right, secured by treaty, to take a fair share of the available fish."[1] The Supreme Court also endorsed Boldt's orders to enforce his rulings using federal law enforcement assets and the Coast Guard.