The Washington Supreme Court sided with a coalition of gas station owners Thursday, ruling that a lawsuit the group filed over compacts between the state and some American Indian tribes can move forward even though the tribes are not a party to the suit.
The coalition filed suit in Grays Harbor Superior Court in 2010, arguing that the compacts -- which require the state to refund 75 percent of taxes collected at tribe-owned gas stations -- are unconstitutional.
But state attorneys argued successfully to have the case dismissed, saying it couldn't move forward without the tribes -- and the tribes could not be named as defendants because they have sovereign immunity.
AWB filed an amicus brief last year, urging the court to take up the case. The state, the brief argued, shouldn't be allowed to hide beyond the issue of tribal sovereignty.
"As representatives of one of the most taxed and regulated communities in Washington, AWB finds offensive the notion that state officers might act contrary to the constitution or contrary to state with respect to taxpayer money, but be insulated from any judicial check on that action simply because the illegality is with a sovereign entity within the state," wrote Kris Tefft, AWB's general counsel.
The court agreed, ruling 5-4 that the case should proceed.
"Sovereign immunity is meant to be raised as a shield by the tribe, not wielded as a sword by the State," Justice Debra Stephens wrote in the majority opinion.
The Washington Policy Center, which also filed amicus brief urging the court to review the case, blogs on the decision here.
Erik Smith at the Washington State Wire called the ruling a "major blow" to the deals that Gov. Chris Gregoire struck with the state's tribes.