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Supreme Court Rules Yakama Nation Exempt from Paying Fuel Taxes


Last week, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that fuel taxes are not owed by a business owner of the Yakama Native American Tribe that is located in Washington state. Justice Neil Gorsuch voted along with the four more liberal justices in favor of tribal treaty rights in a case between the Washington Department of Licensing and the Cougar Den gas station in White Swan on the Yakama Reservation.

The legal case that began in 2013 ended with the determination that the Cougar Den business owner did not owe the state more than three million dollars in fuel taxes. Specifically, an 1855 treaty between the Yakamas and the U.S. exempted the tribe from paying state fuel taxes, even for fuel imported from elsewhere to be sold on the reservation. The case was founded on gas that the Cougar Den brought in from Oregon. The case was based on the interpretation of a “right to travel” clause in the Yakama Treaty of 1855, and the justices interpreted the clause to mean Cougar Den is free to move its fuel in and out of the reservation.

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