Chickasaw Nation v. United States, 534 U.S. 84, 5 (2001)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the tenth circuit

No. 00-507. Argued October 2, 2001—Decided November 27, 2001*

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (Gaming Act) provides, as relevant here, that Internal Revenue Code (Code) provisions "(including [ ]1441, 3402(q), 6041, and 6050I, and chapter 35 . . .) concerning the reporting and withholding of taxes" with respect to gambling operations shall apply to Indian tribes in the same way as they apply to States. 25 U. S. C. 2719(d)(1). Chapter 35 imposes taxes from which it exempts certain state-controlled gambling activities, but says nothing about tax reporting or withholding. Petitioners, the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations, claim that the Gaming Act subsection's explicit parenthetical reference exempts them from paying those chapter 35 taxes from which the States are exempt. Rejecting that claim, the Tenth Circuit held that the subsection applies only to Code provisions concerning tax withholding and reporting.

Held: Section 2719(d)(1) does not exempt tribes from paying the gambling-related taxes that chapter 35 imposes. Pp. 88-95.

(a) The subsection's language outside the parenthetical says that the subsection applies to Code provisions concerning reporting and withholding, and the other four parenthetical references arguably concern reporting and withholding. The Tribes nonetheless claim that the subsection's explicit parenthetical reference to chapter 35 expands the Gaming Act's scope beyond reporting and withholding provisions— to the tax-imposing provisions that chapter 35 contains—and at the very least gives the subsection an ambiguity that can be resolved by applying the canon that statutes are to be construed liberally in favor of Indians with ambiguous provisions interpreted to their benefit. Rejecting their argument reduces the chapter 35 phrase to surplusage, but there is no other reasonable reading of the statute. Pp. 88-89.

(b) The statute's language is too strong to give the chapter 35 reference independent operative effect. The unambiguous language outside the parenthetical says without qualification that the subsection applies to "provisions . . . concerning the reporting and withholding of taxes"; and the language inside the parenthetical, prefaced with the word "in*Together with Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma v. United States (see this Court's Rule 12.4), also on certiorari to the same court.

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