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Appeals court to take up Apache Stronghold case on Oak Flat copper mine

A few months ago, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a group of San Carlos Apaches in their fight against a copper mine in the Oak Flat area of Tonto National Forest.

But the court may take up the case again.

In June, a panel of three 9th U.S. Circuit judges ruled 2-1 against the Apaches, who say the mine will destroy a sacred site.

But the court, in a rare move, will consider a rehearing of the case in front of a full, 11-judge panel.

The court heard arguments from both sides this week.

Luke Goodrich of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit that represents the tribe, said that tribe's legal position is unique. 

“Western Apaches have centered their religious practices at Oak Flat since before European contact, hundreds of years. It’s a site of core religious practices that can’t be relocated elsewhere,” Goodrich said.

The mine would be located about 60 miles east of Phoenix.

Ron Dungan was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2024.