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2 U.S. justices check out tribal court

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WELLPINIT, Wash. — U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Stephen Breyer paid a visit to the Spokane Indian Reservation, where they looked in on the workings of a tribal court.

The justices watched as a team of 10 tribal members decided on the best way to help young drug offenders. Both O'Connor and Breyer praised the court's holistic approach.

"It's very intense," O'Connor said. "But it's a good way to do it if you can."

The court was started in March after the tribe received the first payment of a $500,000 federal grant.

Tribal members between the ages of 12 and 20 can be referred to the Strong Heart Court for alcohol or drug abuse or minor criminal offenses. During the yearlong program, they must submit to three drug tests and go to group and individual therapy sessions.

On Wednesday, the justices joined in the applause as teens battling alcohol or drug use were lauded for a week of clean drug tests or faithful attendance at counseling sessions.

They also heard the debates over whether to send teens with repeated failures or absences to detention or treatment centers.

Tribal Judge Mary Pearson had to abide by the majority decision.

Spokane tribal leaders said they hope the justices' visit will highlight their innovative ideas.

"The decisions they make affect everything we do," Tribal Business Chairman Alfred Peone said.

"We want to open their eyes," he said. "The more things they see, the better they understand."

O'Connor and Breyer are on a tour sponsored by the National Association of Tribal Courts. They also planned to visit the much larger Navajo Reservation in Arizona.