Judith M. Stinson, Tara Mospan, and Marnie Hodahkwen have posted “Trusting Tribal Courts: More Lawyers is Not Always the Answer” on SSRN. The paper is forthcoming in the Law Journal for Social Justice at ASU.
Many outsiders distrust tribal courts because they assume they will be treated unfairly. This distrust creates a number of problems, including decreasing the effectiveness of tribal judicial systems, inhibiting tribal economic development, and ultimately undermining tribal sovereignty. Critics of tribal courts assert three main justifications for their structural skepticism: first, that tribal courts are “different” from other court systems in the United States; second, that tribal laws and traditions seem foreign and may be difficult to access; and third, that because the qualifications for judges and practitioners in tribal courts sometimes differ from those in other courts, tribal judges and advocates are inferior. Drawing on other scholarship, this article briefly responds to the first two criticisms. This paper then argues that non-lawyer judges and lay advocates can be as effective as law-trained judges and advocates in other court systems. Although it is impossible to eliminate all outsider bias, refuting the claimed justifications should demonstrate that tribal courts are as fair and as competent as non-tribal courts. Therefore, greater confidence in tribal courts is warranted.