Less than a month after a legal victory, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts faces yet another legal challenge from those who oppose building First Light Casino in Taunton.
Michelle Littlefield and her anti-First Light Casino coalition appealed their legal challenge against the Mashpee on March 1.
Littlefield is the lead plaintiff in a case challenging the casino that residents of her town, Taunton, voted by a roughly 2-to-1 margin to build in 2012.
This appeal comes on the heels of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s victory in this latest challenge from the Littlefields. On Feb. 10, a district judge ruled the Department of the Interior had correctly ruled to federally recognize the tribe and put land in its reservation trust (that the tribe is hoping to use for First Light Casino).
The first Littlefield challenge began in 2016 and finally lost when President Biden’s DOI withdraw a Trump-era appeal to remove the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land from federal trust.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe almost had its reservation dissolved by Trump’s DOI in 2020. While such a dramatic outcome is unlikely under the Biden administration, the Mashpee Wampanoag’s close call in 2020 shows how much larger the Littlefield challenge is than the First Light Casino.
Second legal challenge against Mashpee Wampanoag
The first Littlefield challenge revolved around the DOI’s ability to bring the tribe’s land into federal trust. That trust is what gives a tribe’s reservation land the necessary legal status for sovereign land.
Littlefield benefitted from the Trump administration. Trump’s Secretary of the Interior failed to notify the required judge of DOI’s decision to dissolve the Mashpee Wampanoag’s reservation. The ruling judge found the decision by accident and reversed the dissolution about two months later.
The risk for the tribe is a presidential candidate unfriendly to tribal rights assuming the White House in 2025. The original Littlefield challenge began in 2016 during the end of Obama’s second term, lasted through all of Trump’s term and then ended weeks into Biden’s term.
This case could bleed into the next administration. And that administration may or may not be sympathetic to the intricacies of tribal law.
How is this legal appeal different than the first?
However, Littlefield’s second challenge is only somewhat different from her first. She’s drawing on a different phrase in the same portion of law she challenged the first time around. The larger difference is her concern about potential changes in Taunton’s neighborhood that a casino would cause.
The concern about neighborhood impact is the most likely factor to draw the latest Littlefield challenge out. Whether the judge finds her concerns credible will determine how far the case will go this time around.
READ MORE: Our Guide To Massachusetts Casinos