Treaties with tribes in the Pacific Northwest reserved their right to fish. E.g., the Treaty of Point Elliott (Jan. 22, 1855), provided:
Article 5. The right of taking fish at usual and accustomed grounds and stations is further secured to said Indians in common with all citizens of the Territory, and of erecting temporary houses for the purpose of curing, together with the privilege of hunting and gathering roots and berries on open and unclaimed lands. Provided, however, That they shall not take shell-fish from any beds staked or cultivated by citizens.
But by the 1950s and 1960s, there were conflicts between commercial fishing interests and Natives. The state enforced fishing regulations against tribal members. After protests on the Puyallup River, in September 1970 the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington filed a suit against the state of Washington on behalf of the United States and as trustee for seven tribes. Other tribes intervened, the State Department of Fisheries and the State Game Commission, and the Washington Reef Net Owners Association were included as defendants.
The judge assigned to the case was George Boldt, who issued his first decision on Feb. 12, 1974. The decision gave the tribes who were parties to the treaties the right to half the catch, with the tribes and the state managing the fishery together. Even though a judge issues hundreds or thousands of rulings in a career, this case became known to the public as the Boldt decision.
The district court retains jurisdiction over disputes arising in the case.
Judge Boldt's initial ruling required the state and the tribes to manage the fishery together.
"We cannot think of a more comprehensive and complex case than this."
United States v. Washington has generated many published opinions, from the district court, the Ninth Circuit, and even the Supreme Court.
Over 30 years ago, Judge Eugene Wright remarked, "We cannot think of a more comprehensive and complex case than this. Since 1974, there have been numerous supplemental proceedings with voluminous filings. In the proceedings below, this was one of 14 sub-proceedings and over 11,000 papers had been filed with the district court." United States v. Washington, 901 F.2d 772, 775 (9th Cir. 1990). And the case has continued to generate filings since then.
Most of the links below are to the Caselaw Access Project, since many readers of this guide might not have access to premium online databases. For each case, CAP has both a text version and a PDF (with copyrighted headnotes redacted). There are also links to other public sources, such as Google Scholar and the Supreme Court's website.
United States v. Washington began before electronic case filing. The court has posted PDFs of early docket entries:
See Special Case Notices (W.D. Wash.) (scroll to the bottom for United States v. Washington).
The National Archives at Seattle holds federal district court records—but not for United States v. Washington, since the case is still open. It does have court records for earlier fishing rights cases.
The Washington State Historical Society (Washington State History Museum, in Tacoma) has a collection of Judge Boldt's papers, including 11 boxes of material from United States v. Washington, described in this finding aid.
University of Washington Libraries Special Collections
The University Libraries' manuscripts and archival collections include many materials related to United States v. Washington, including those listed below. For more, search Archives West, which includes other Northwest libraries as well as the UW.
Other Unpublished Material in the University Libraries
The Boldt Decision (1976)
researcher/writers, Lucille Fuller, Richard Carter, Carol Ovens ; producer/director, Steve Welch ; [produced in cooperation with] Institute of Governmental Research of the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington ; KCTS 1976 Seattle, Wash. : KCTS
Boldt Decision Memoir: Billy Frank Jr. and UW Professor Richard Whitney (2013)
Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission chairman Billy Frank Jr. sits down with UW Professor Richard Whitney to reminisce about their involvement with tribal treaty rights and the Boldt decision in the 1970s and 1980s. Whitney was the fisheries technical advisor to federal Judge George Boldt, whose opinion in U.S. v. Washington upheld tribal treaty fishing rights for treaties in Western Washington.
The literature about United States v. Washington (and Northwest Indian fishing rights more broadly) is vast. This selective list will grow.
One step was searching the UW Law Digital Commons for articles in UW Law journals or published by UW Law faculty, so the list is has a large UW representation.
Articles are in alphabetical order by last name.
Links are often to free sites. HeinOnline is a licensed database available throughout the University of Washington (and in many other universities' libraries).
United States v. Washington has been studied by scholars from many fields. Here is a selected list of works. Links in the first group are to ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.
Dissertations, Theses, and Student Papers Available in University Libraries
Most are by University of Washington students. Many of the UW Law papers were written for Prof. Ralph W. Johnson seminar.