McManis Faulkner filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court, asking the Court to grant review in the case of White v. University of California in order to preserve two nearly 10,000 year old human skeletons, which are among the most significant archaeological resources in North America. The firm represents three distinguished University of California professors — Timothy White, Robert Bettinger and Margaret Schoeninger — who specialize in ancient anthropology and archaeology. They want to study the remains and conduct DNA testing to learn more about the first humans to appear on this continent. The University of California, which denied their research requests, wants to transfer the remains to an 18-member Native American tribe in San Diego that plans to bury them.
The law governing the treatment of Native American human remains, entitled the “Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act” (NAGPRA), only applies if the remains at issue have a significant relationship to a presently existing tribe. In this case, despite the fact that there was no evidence of any tribe having a significant relationship with the remains, the University decided to transfer them. The professors sued the University, alleging that it failed to make the findings necessary under NAGPRA to support transferring the remains to the tribe. The federal court in which the case was filed ruled that because the tribe was a necessary party with sovereign immunity, the case had to be dismissed. Thus, no decision was made on the merits of the professors’ claims.
McManis Faulkner appealed the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, which issued a divided 2-1 opinion that affirmed the lower court, but contained a strong dissent supporting the professors’ position. McManis Faulkner wants to challenge the Ninth Circuit’s decision at the U.S. Supreme Court. The Petition for Writ of Certiorari that was filed can be viewed here and here.