We begin by discussing the tribal exhaustion doctrine involved in this case. “[W]hen a federal court has subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim arising in Indian country over which a tribal forum has colorable jurisdiction, principles of comity and the federal policy of promoting tribal self-government generally require that the plaintiff fully exhaust tribal remedies before proceeding in federal court.” Restatement of the Law of Am. Indians § 59 cmt. a (Am. Law Inst., Proposed Final Draft 2021).
slip op. at 14.
Maybe a little more Restatement. . . .
Post–Santa Clara Pueblo, federal review has been limited to habeas, leaving tribal courts to adjudicate any other civil rights claims. See Restatement of the Law of Am. Indians § 16 cmt. a (“With the exception of actions for habeas corpus relief [under § 1303, ICRA’s civil rights] guarantees are enforceable exclusively in tribal courts and other tribal fora.”).
slip op. at 21.
And more. . . .
Tribal exhaustion doctrine exists to preserve tribal sovereignty and prevent the federal courts from running roughshod over tribal legal systems. See Norton, 862 F.3d at 1243; Restatement of the Law of Am. Indians § 28 cmt. a (“[A]djudication of matters impairing reservation affairs by any nontribal court . . . infringes upon tribal law-making authority, because tribal courts are best qualified to interpret and apply tribal law.”).
Indian defendants appearing before tribal courts are not protected by the Bill of Rights. Instead, Congress enacted the Indian Civil Rights Act in 1968 to extend some, but not all, constitutional protections unto Indian reservations. Fifty years later and there continues to be extensive litigation surrounding ICRA.
This paper looks at all of the ICRA cases decided in 2017 to attempt to evaluate the merits of ICRA’s protections of tribal rights. The picture is decidedly mixed. From these cases the paper calls for three changes that directly respond to trends in civil rights litigation. 1) The paper suggests that courts expand the understanding of habeas jurisdiction to extend when an individual has been banished. It argues that banishment is a form of confinement and a restriction of liberty – albeit one where the jail cell is large, essentially the world minus the reservation. 2) Tribes must adopt codes that provide for a trial by jury and rules for determining who constitutes the jury and how it may be empaneled. While ICRA provides for a trial by jury, tribal courts have an affirmative duty to inform defendants of their right to request a jury trial. It is a violation of ICRA if the tribe does not make provisions for a jury when requested. 3) Finally tribal court judgments, when used in other forums, may be ambiguous because tribal law and tribal procedures are distinct from those followed by states or the federal system. Accordingly, any ambiguity that arises in response to a tribal court judgment should be resolved with a reference to the doctrine of lenity.
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