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Tohono O’odham sues over annexation bill

The Tohono O’Odham Nation filed a federal lawsuit against the State of Arizona and the City of Glendale over a law designed to block the tribe from building a casino.

In the lawsuit, filed Friday, the tribe argued that HB2534 is pre-empted by federal law, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of due process and equal protection, and violates the Arizona Constitution’s prohibition on special legislation.

The Arizona House and Senate passed the bill in January, and Gov. Jan Brewer signed it into law.

In a press release, tribal Chairman Ned Norris said the bill meets “the very definition of special legislation” and is clearly intended to block the tribe’s plan to build a casino on the edge of Glendale’s city limits. Norris also argued that the bill would penalize the tribe for invoking its rights under the Gila Bend Indian Reservation Lands Act, under which the Tohono O’odham acquired the land for the casino.

“This unconstitutional bill represents a blatant attack against the Tohono O’odham Nation and sets a dangerous precedent for all Arizonans. By promoting this legislation, opponents have stooped to a new low, circumventing the federal and state constitutions in a desperate attempt to stop this project,” Norris said. “The vast majority of West Valley residents support this project and we remain committed to bringing new jobs and economic opportunity to the region.”

HB2534 would allow cities to annex any land that is surrounded on at least three sides by its municipal boundaries if the landowner asks the federal government to take ownership of the property. It would permit Glendale to annex the 53-acre parcel near 91st and Northern avenues, which the tribe has asked the U.S. Department of the Interior to take into trust so it can be officially designated part of its reservation.

The law, however, will not go into effect until 90 days after the legislative session ends, which could give a federal judge time to rule in the Tohono O’odham’s favor before Glendale has an opportunity to use its newfound powers.

Glendale and the Gila River Indian Community sued the Tohono O’odham to block the casino, which they say would violate Arizona’s Indian gaming compact. U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell will hear arguments on Feb. 17.

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