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The Supreme Court has ruled that the government must fully reimburse Native American tribes for millions of dollars they spent on federal programs.

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The federal government had agreed to fully reimburse money tribes spent on programs like law enforcement, environmental protection and agricultural assistance, but Congress capped the amount of money earmarked for that reimbursement. The tribes sued, and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver said the money must be fully reimbursed.

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The high court on Monday ruled the Ramah Navajo Chapter and other Native American tribes must get their money back.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion for Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito dissented.

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“We stressed that the government’s obligation to pay contract support costs should be treated as an ordinary contract promise,” Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in the majority ruling which confirmed a Colorado appeals court decision.

“The government was obligated to pay the tribes’ contract support costs in full.”

Congress allocated $1.6 billion to the Bureau of Indian Affairs for “the operations of Indian programs” in 2000, according to news agency AFP, but only $120.2 million was paid out.

“Between FY [financial year] 1994 and 2001, appropriations covered only between 77% and 92% of tribes’ aggregate contract support costs,” the judgment read.

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