Resolution Copper mine goes back before appeals court in a major religious rights case

Magma smelter complex

By Debra Utacia Krol || The Arizona Republic

(Disclosure: Rose Law Group represents Resolution Copper)

The fate of a proposed copper mine that Native people say would obliterate a sacred site near Superior and violate their religious rights will be determined before a federal appeals court Tuesday in an unusual rehearing of what could beR a groundbreaking First Amendment case.

It’s the latest turn in a nearly 20-year-long disagreement between a coalition of tribes, environmentalists and recreationists, and the U.S. government and a mining company over a 2,200-acre tract of land in Pinal County that holds one of the world’s biggest copper deposits.

The suit, Apache Stronghold v. United States, was filed in February 2021 in federal court. After it was rejected by a judge in Arizona, the Native rights group took the case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, where a three-judge panel heard arguments in October 2021 and again ruled against Apache Stronghold. In November 2022, the appeals court announced it would rehear the case “en banc,” or by the court’s full panel of 11 judges.

It has caught the attention of not only Indigenous activists and environmental groups, but religious organizations that see the case as important to First Amendment rights. An assortment of religious leaders ranging from Sikhs, Jews and Muslims to Mennonites, Catholics and Mormons are urging the court to uphold Apache religious beliefs, fearing that a ruling against the tribe could lead to setbacks for their rights.

Meanwhile, pro-development interests and even other Native people have filed “friend of the court” briefs in support of the project, which the mine’s owners say would bring about 3,700 jobs and $1 billion annually to Arizona’s economy and open up a store of copper at a time when demand is growing.


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March 2023