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U.S. Supreme Court: No fuel tax by Washington State on Native American tribe

Fuel tax by Washington State on Native American tribe

The U.S. Supreme Court today affirmed a judgment of the Washington State Supreme Court, and concluded that motor fuel imported from Oregon over Washington’s public highways by the Yakama Nation (a Native American tribe) was not subject to Washington State tax because the tribe’s activities were pre-empted by a treaty (1855) between the United States and the Yakama Nation.


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The case is: Washington State Dept. of Licensing v. Cougar Den, Inc., No. 16-1498 (S. Ct. March 19, 2019). Read the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision [PDF 226 KB] that includes concurring and dissenting opinions.

Washington State imposes a tax upon fuel im­porters who travel by public highway. At issue was whether an 1855 treaty between the United States and the Yakama Nation forbids the State of Washington from imposing that tax upon fuel importers who are members of the Yakama Nation. The majority of the U.S. Supreme Court today concluded that the treaty does bar this tax, and affirmed the Washington Supreme Court’s decision.

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