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McCain and Dorgan Call For Action Following Cobell v. Kempthorne Decision

Location: Washington, DC

McCain and Dorgan Call For Action Following Cobell v. Kempthorne Decision

Washington, DC - Today, U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) released the following statement on the order issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia regarding the Cobell v. Kempthorne case:

On Tuesday, July 11, 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued an order in the 10-year old class action lawsuit of Cobell v. Kempthorne, taking the case away from the presiding United States District Court Judge, the Hon. Royce C. Lamberth.

"Almost immediately after the Circuit Court's decision on Tuesday, we began receiving inquiries about whether and how this will affect the legislation that I introduced along with Senator Dorgan to settle the Cobell case," said Senator John S. McCain, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. "The reassignment order in the Circuit Court's opinion has gotten a lot of attention, but the Court also makes a couple of observations at the end of its opinion that are much more relevant to our legislative settlement initiative. The court points out first that, despite years of litigation, there is still no remedy in sight, and second that the government remains in breach of its trust responsibilities. In short, this lawsuit is far from over, so my answer is that Tuesday's decision does nothing to lessen the need to get it settled."

"But the decision does provide a great opportunity for all the parties to rethink their positions and get behind the legislative settlement proposal that our committee, and our House counterparts on the Resources Committee, have been putting forward," he added.

"While the plaintiffs are completely justified in seeking to have their accounts administered properly by the Interior Department, the fallout from this litigation has affected Indian country in many negative ways and impaired the agency's ability to fulfill its other responsibilities to Indian people," said Senator McCain. "Our settlement proposal would provide due process and justice to these plaintiffs, while also saving the Federal government huge sums of money in ongoing litigation and accounting costs, and avoid potential exposure to damages arising from its breach of trust."

Senator Dorgan, Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, said that "although removal of Judge Lamberth from the Cobell case may be a moral victory for the government attorneys, the decision in no way diminishes the government's underlying liability to hundreds of thousands of individual Indians." Dorgan pointed out that the Circuit Court reaffirmed that Interior's record in acting as trustee to these Indians is ‘deplorable' and ‘deserves condemnation in the strongest terms'. He said he agreed with the court's opinion that a serious injustice has persisted for over a century and that it cries out for redress. Given that there still remains no remedy in sight, Dorgan said that he believes it is appropriate for Congress to move forward to try to provide some justice to this longstanding travesty.

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