Fletcher Paper on “Tribal Justice Systems”

I drafted a paper titled “Tribal Justice Systems” for the Allegheny College Undergraduate Conference “Democracy Realized? The Legacies of the Civil Rights Movement” and posted it on SSRN. You can download here.

Here is the abstract:

This short paper is produced for the Allegheny College conference Democracy Realized? The Legacies of the Civil Rights Movement (March 28-29, 2014).

United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, authored the Court’s opinion in Williams v. Lee, a decision hailed as the opening salvo in the modern era of federal Indian law. The Williams decision was the work of the liberal wing of the Court, with important input by Chief Justice Warren and Justices Brennan and Douglas. Williams, a ringing endorsement of inherent tribal governance authority, more specifically endorsed tribal justices systems as embodied in tribal courts. Without Williams and similar cases, it is unlikely that tribal governments and Congress would act to develop tribal justice systems. Williams, and the tribal courts that arose as a result, was a powerful civil rights decision that commentators rightfully have linked to Brown v. Board of Education.

This paper will survey several tribal justice systems in an effort to identify commonalities and complexities. There are hundreds of tribal justice systems in the United States; each of them unique in the details, but many of them similar to other tribal, state, and federal courts.

The paper is divided into three sections. The first two parts include a section on adversarial tribal justice systems and a section on non-adversarial tribal justice systems, often called restorative justice systems. The third part involves greater discussion of the complexities of incorporating tribal customary and traditional law into tribal common law.

In case one wonders, “Representing Justice” by Judith Resnik and Dennis Curtis influenced the paper.


Empirical Research on Tribal Courts and Customary Law Posted on SSRN

My working paper, “Tribal Courts, the Indian Civil Rights Act, and Customary Law: Preliminary Data,” has been posted on SSRN. Chi-miigwetch to Alicia Ivory for all her hard work in helping with the research (you can see her contributions in the lengthy appendices at the end of the paper).

Here’s the abstract:

This study is an attempt to assess the validity of my theory that tribal courts do not apply “unusually difficult” laws in cases involving nonmembers. I theorized that in most cases (if not the vast, overwhelming majority), tribal courts apply a kind of “intertribal common law,” which consists of the application of tribal statutes that mirror federal and state statutes and the federal and state cases that interpret them.

Of the 120 cases involving an ICRA issue, tribal court judges applied federal and state case law as persuasive (and often controlling law) in 114 cases (95 percent). And, of the six cases in which the tribal court explicitly refused to apply federal or state case law, either the parties involved tribal members in a domestic dispute or else the tribal court held that its interpretation of the substantive provisions of ICRA were stronger or more protective of individual rights than would otherwise be available in parallel federal or state cases.