Greg Ablavsky Responds to Rob Natelson’s “Cite Check” of Ablavsky’s “Beyond the Indian Commerce Clause”

Gregory Ablavsky’s “Beyond the Indian Commerce Clause: Robert Natelson’s Problematic ‘Cite-Check’” is at the Stanford Law School blog, Legal Aggregate.

An excerpt:

Here’s that context: In 2007, Mr. Natelson wrote a law review article on the original understanding of the Indian Commerce Clause. Justice Thomas later cited Mr. Natelson’s article in a 2013 concurrence questioning Congress’s authority to enact the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). In 2015, while a graduate student finishing my J.D./Ph.D. in American Legal History at Penn, I published Beyond the Indian Commerce Clause in the YLJ, which revisited original understandings of the sources of federal power over Indian affairs. In the article, I argued that the Founders thought that the federal government’s authority rested not just on the Indian Commerce Clause but on the interplay between multipleconstitutional provisions, including the Treaty Clause, the Territory Clause, the war powers, the law of nations, and the Constitution’s limits on state authority. The article also challenged Justice Thomas’s and Mr. Natelson’s conclusions in what Mr. Natelson later conceded was a “generally respectful” tone. Since the article, a number of subsequent articles by other scholars, some right-of-center and others disagreeing with my conclusions, have similarly challenged Mr. Natelson’s views.

Recommended reading. Professor Ablavsky is the leading legal historian of federal Indian law right now and filed a compelling amicus brief in Brackeen (here).

The End of a Michigan Law Allowing Scientists to Dig Up “Aboriginal Inhabitants”

Came across this short note in Indian Talk, a 1973 newsletter by and about Michigan Indians and a precursor to the original Turtle Talk, referencing a federal lawsuit filed to have Michigan public law 750.160 declared unconstitutional. That law prohibited Dr. Frankenstein and others from digging up graves, but granted an exception to Indiana Jones in case he found some Indian bones:

Shay Elbaum at the Michigan law library found a 1974 law repealing the part about “aboriginal inhabitants.”

Can’t find a record of the lawsuit, however. It probably went away when the state legislature repealed the exception.

John LaVelle on the History of Indian Country and Reservation Boundaries Cases, Part 1

John P. LaVelle has published the provocatively titled “Of Reservation Boundary Lines and Judicial Battle Lines, Part 1 – Reservation Diminishment/Disestablishment Cases from 1962 to 1975: The Indian Law Justice Files, Episode 1” in the UCLA Indigenous Peoples Journal of Law, Culture, and Resistance.


This Article is the first of a two-part investigation into the Indian law doctrine of reservation diminishment/disestablishment, examining Supreme Court decisions in this area in light of insights gathered from the collected papers of individual Justices archived at the Library of Congress and various university libraries. The Article first addresses Seymour v. Superintendent (1962) and Mattz v. Arnett (1973), observing that these first two diminishment/disestablishment cases are modern applications of basic, longstanding principles of Indian law which are highly protective of Indigenous people’s rights and tribal sovereignty. The Article then examines in detail DeCoteau v. District County Court, the anomalous 1975 decision in which the Supreme Court held that an 1889 land-sale agreement between the United States and the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Indians, which Congress ratified in 1891, had abolished the boundaries of the Lake Traverse Reservation in South Dakota and North Dakota, a reservation that had been established as the Indians’ “permanent reservation” home in an 1867 treaty. The Article critiques DeCoteau in view of the historical context of the 1862 U.S.-Dakota War, an explosive conflict that resulted in the forced removal of the Dakota people from their reservation and aboriginal homelands in Minnesota and the abrogation of all U.S.-Dakota treaties, including treaty rights that guaranteed annual payments essential for the Indians’ subsistence and survival. The Article brings into view the full scope of the negotiations between the Sisseton- Wahpeton people and U.S. commissioners in 1889, demonstrating that the Dakota people never consented to any reduction or elimination of reservation boundaries when they agreed, under desperate circumstances, to sell to the United States the unallotted lands within the reservation. The Article further surveys additional evidence, unaddressed by the Supreme Court, regarding the 1891 Act’s legislative history, including numerous congressional debates and provisions of reports of the Senate and House of Representatives, as well as evidence from Executive Branch sources, which collectively show that the 1891 Act did not shrink or terminate the reservation. The Article posits that DeCoteau, which scholars recognize as having initiated a “magic language” mode of analysis in the reservation diminishment/disestablishment area, cannot be reconciled with fundamental principles of Indian law. Finally, the Article inspects and discusses documents from the archived papers of the Justices who took part in DeCoteau, unraveling clues that may help account for the Supreme Court’s aberrant decision.

Alan Parker Walks On

Obit here. PLSI Class of 1969.

Alan Parker was a big deal — his footprint on Indian affairs is massive. Before I get into his interesting career, I’m going to paste here the nice profile UCLA did of him last year:

A citizen of the Chippewa Cree Tribal Nation, Alan R. Parker attended St Thomas Seminary where he earned a B.A. in Classical Philosophy in 1965. He subsequently attended UCLA School of Law, in Los Angeles, California, where he received a Juris Doctor degree in 1972. Prior to attending Law School, he served as 1st Lt. in the Signal Corp in the US Army from 1965 1968. He was awarded a Bronze Star medal for Out-standing Leadership Service under combat conditions in Vietnam.

Continue reading

Sherally Munshi on Dispossession and American Property

Sherally Munshi has published “Dispossession: An American Property Law Tradition” in the Georgetown Law Journal.

The abstract:

Universities and law schools have begun to purge the symbols of conquest and slavery from their crests and campuses, but they have yet to come to terms with their role in reproducing the material and ideological conditions of settler colonialism and racial capitalism. This Article considers the role the property law tradition has played in shaping and legitimizing regimes of racialized dispossession past and present. It intervenes in the traditional presentation of property law by arguing that dis-possession describes an ongoing but disavowed function of property law. As a counter-narrative and critique of property, dispossession is a useful concept for challenging existing property arrangements, often rationalized within liberal and legal discourse.

Interesting. Looks to be expanding on K-Sue Park’s work.

Bobby Wilson

New Scholarship on the Persistence of Tribal Sovereignty

Seth Davis, Eric Biber & Elena Kempf have published “Persistent Sovereignties” in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. Here is the abstract:

From the first days of the United States, the story of sovereignty has not been one of a simple division between the federal government and the states of the Union. Then, as today, American Indian tribes persisted as self-governing peoples with ongoing and important political relationships with the United States. And then, as today, there was debate about the proper legal characterization of those relationships.
The United States Supreme Court confronted that debate in McGirt v. Oklahoma when, in an opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch, it held that the reservation of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation “persists today.” The Court’s recognition of the persistence of Tribal sovereignty triggered a flurry of critical commentary, including from federal lawmakers who share Justice Gorsuch’s commitment to originalism. But the early history of federal Indian law supports the persistence of tribal sovereignty.