Two things immediately spring to mind on the denial of the Oneida land claims petitions.
The first is that the federal government’s persuasive oomph (with the OSG as the so-called “Tenth Justice”) loses a ton of force when siding with tribal interests. No big surprise to me there. But it must be a little strange for the Justices to see the United States so vehemently demanding to be let off the hook for their breaches of trust toward Indian tribes in Tohono O’odham and Jicarilla and almost in the same breath ask for the Court to review Indian land claims dismissals. The government’s filings before the Court in Indian affairs are two-sided, even a little schizophrenic.
Second, Justice Ginsburg seems to be stepping in Justice Stevens’ role as the the most senior Justice with an interest in limiting the damage to tribal interests in the Supreme Court. And like Justice Stevens, she wrote some negative opinions against tribal interests. But her earlier opinions appear to have swaths of broad dicta that lower courts and the Supreme Court are now leaping at in order to reject more recent tribal claims. I’m thinking of her opinion in Strate, which technically applied only to non-Indian lands on reservation, which Justice Scalia attempted to expand to Indian lands in Hicks; and also now her opinion in Sherrill, which was ostensibly about taxation immunities but now applies broadly (at least in the Second Circuit) to all tribal land claims. Both times she appears to be trying to reel in the Court in applying her dicta in earlier cases, and both times unsuccessfully.
Also, Justice Sotomayor backs up her statement about Indian law being a focus for her.