New Student Scholarship on Tribal Courts and Environmental Tort Litigation

Helia Bidad has published “The Power of Tribal Courts in Ongoing Environmental-Tort Litigation” in the Yale Law Journal. Here is the abstract:

Cities, counties, and states across the country are bringing environmental and climate tort suits to hold environmental tortfeasors accountable. These cases are commonly brought in state and federal court, but the possibility of bringing these suits in tribal courts has largely been left out of the discussion. In the wake of attacks on tribal sovereignty in the form of tribal jurisdiction stripping, this Essay uses an original empirical analysis of 308 cases to understand the circumstances in which tribal-court jurisdiction currently exists for tribal members to sue nonmembers for environmental torts in tribal court. This Essay makes recommendations for how to strategically bring these suits and highlights important considerations for tribal sovereignty.

Student Note on Native Voting Rights

Noelle N. Wyman has published “Native Voting Power: Enhancing Tribal Sovereignty in Federal Elections” (PDF) in the Yale Law Journal. Here is the abstract:

Members of tribal nations are disproportionately burdened by barriers to voting, from strict voter identification and registration requirements to inadequate language assistance and inaccessible polling locations. Restrictive voting laws are on the rise, while the avenues for challenging them under the prevailing model of voting rights are narrowing. This Note advocates for a different approach to conceptualizing and combatting Native American voter suppression.

First, it advances a new jurisprudential theory centered on tribal sovereignty: suppressing the Native vote not only denies rights to individual citizens but also denies sovereign power to tribes. Historically, states required Native American people to renounce tribal membership, culture, and lands to vote. Today, states and localities continue to denigrate tribal sovereignty in the administration of elections, such as by rejecting tribal-issued IDs and interfering with tribes’ organization of their own political communities. Apart from securing the fundamental rights of individual Native citizens, Congress has a substantive duty to secure tribal sovereignty in federal election administration that is rooted in its trust obligation to tribes.

Second, this Note proposes a new legal framework for enhancing Native voting power: Congress should require states and local election officials to negotiate with federally recognized tribes toward the formation of tribal-state compacts governing federal election administration in Indian Country. This framework would relieve tribes of the burdens that they currently carry to initiate collaboration with local election officials, fill gaps in voter assistance, and challenge unlawful voting restrictions in court. Meanwhile, it would involve tribes in the process of lawmaking and regulation, enabling them to exert a measure of sovereign power over federal elections in Indian Country.

Student Scholarship on McGirt and Aboriginal Title

Clare Blumenthal published “‘We Hold the Government to Its Word’: How McGirt v. Oklahoma Revives Aboriginal Title” in the Yale Law Journal.

Here is the abstract:

This Note analyzes for the first time how McGirt v. Oklahoma could revive aboriginal-title land claims against the United States and create an opening for Land Back litigation. It argues that McGirt directs lower courts to enforce aboriginal title’s congressional-intent requirement strictly and renews the relevance of an overlooked case from 2015, Pueblo of Jemez v. United States. In Pueblo of Jemez, the Tenth Circuit unknowingly demonstrated how insisting on clearer proof of congressional intent to extinguish title would implement McGirt’s holding and remove the jurisdictional bars—sovereign immunity and preclusion—that have prevented aboriginal-title litigation.

Gregory Ablavsky on the Origins of Dual Federalism

Gregory Ablavsky has published “Empire States: The Coming of Dual Federalism” in the Yale Law Journal (PDF).

Here is the abstract:

This Article offers an alternate account of federalism’s late eighteenth-century origins. In place of scholarly and doctrinal accounts that portray federalism as a repudiation of models of unitary sovereignty, it emphasizes the federalist ideology of dual sovereignty as a form of centralization—a shift from a world of diffuse sovereignty to one where authority was increasingly imagined as concentrated in the hands of only two legitimate sovereigns.

In making this claim, the Article focuses on two sequential late eighteenth-century transformations. The first concerned sovereignty. Pre-Revolutionary ideas about sovereignty reflected early modern corporatist understandings of authority as well as imperial realities of uneven jurisdiction. But the Revolution elevated a new understanding of sovereignty in which power derived from the consent of a uniform people. This conception empowered state legislatures, which, throughout the 1780s, sought to use their status under new state constitutions as the sole repositories of popular authority to subordinate competing claims to authority made by corporations, local institutions, Native nations, and separatist movements.

The second shift came with the drafting and ratification of the U.S. Constitution, which bolstered federal authority partly in order to protect state authority against internal competitors—an aim reflected in the Guarantee and New State Clauses. Ultimately, the Constitution both limited and enhanced state authority; it entrenched a framework of dual sovereignty. After ratification, competitors to state sovereignty were increasingly constrained to appeal to some federal right or power. What had previously been contests among supposedly coequal sovereigns—what modern scholars would call horizontal federalism—became questions of vertical federalism, issues of whether federal authority would vindicate states or their opponents.

Although the Article concludes with some implications of this history for present-day federalism doctrine and theory, its primary contribution is descriptive. Judges and lawyers routinely and almost unthinkingly invoke localism and power diffusion as the historical values of federalism. Yet the history explored here challenges whether these near-universal assumptions about federalism’s aims actually reflect what federalism was designed to accomplish.

Justice Breyer and “The Yale Lectures”

Available here, drawing from his book Making Democracy Work.

Here is an excerpt:

After the decision [in Worcester], Justice Joseph Story wrote to his wife: “Thanks be to God, the Court can wash their hands clean of the iniquity of oppressing the Indians and disregarding their rights.” A few days later, he wrote to another
correspondent: “The Court has done its duty. Let the Nation now do theirs.” Story added: “Georgia is full of anger and violence. . . . Probably she will resist . . . , and if she does, I do not believe the President will interfere . . . .”

And that is just what happened. Georgia said it would resist the decision as a “usurpation” of power. And this is the case about which President Andrew Jackson supposedly said, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”
The President considered he had as good a right as the Court to decide what the Constitution meant and how it should be enforced. Worcester stayed in jail. John Marshall wrote to Story: “I yield slowly and reluctantly to the conviction that our Constitution cannot last.”

What was wrong with Jackson’s position? The President soon found out. South Carolina, noticing what Georgia could do, decided it would follow suit— but in respect to federal taxes. It passed a law prohibiting the payment of federal customs duties. And Jackson then began to realize the threat to the Union inherent in the principle. He quickly obtained a “force bill” from Congress, authorizing him to send troops to South Carolina. And South Carolina withdrew its law. The press began to write about Georgia and the Cherokees: how did Georgia and Worcester differ from South Carolina and taxes? And Georgia began to back down. It reached an agreement with Worcester, releasing him from jail. And so the Court’s order was ultimately enforced. Or was it?

There is no happy ending here. Jackson sent troops to Georgia, but not to enforce the Court’s decision or to secure the Indians their lands. To the contrary, he sent federal troops to evict the Indians. He found a handful of Cherokees willing to sign a treaty requiring departure; he ignored 17,000 other Cherokees who protested that they would die rather than agree to go; and he forced the tribe to move to Oklahoma, walking there along the Trail of Tears, so-called because so many Cherokees died along the way. Their descendants live in Oklahoma to this day.

This episode suggests a negative answer to Hotspur’s question. The Court may follow the law—even in an unpopular matter. But that does not matter very much. Force, not law, will prevail. The summoned “spirits” will not come.

Yale Law Journal Publishes Pamela Karlan’s Review of Laughlin McDonald’s Voting Rights in Indian Country Study

Lightning in the Hand: Indians and Voting Rights

Written by Pamela S. Karlan, [View as PDF]
120 Yale L.J. 1420 (2011).

American Indians and the Fight for Equal Voting Rights

By Laughlin McDonald

Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010, pp. 347. $55.00.

Exchange between Michael Brown and Carpenter/Katyal/Riley on “In Defense of Property”

The International Journal of Cultural Property has published Michael Brown’s response to the Yale Law Journal article, “In Defense of Property,” by Kristen Carpenter, Sonia Katyal, and Angela Riley, and their surreply.

The Yale article is here, and the exchange is here.

Pamela Karlan Review of Laughlin McDonald’s Book to Be Published in Yale Law Journal

Pamela Karlan has posted the abstract of her forthcoming review of Laughlin McDonald’s book “American Indians and the Fight for Equal Voting Rights” on SSRN (link here). Here is the abstract:

This review essay discusses Laughlin McDonald’s book, American Indians and the Fight For Equal Voting Rights (2010), to explore questions of disenfranchisement, dilution, and constitutional design. McDonald examines the barriers to full political equality faced by Indians in communities in five Western states and describes litigation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 attacking these barriers. In many ways, the Indian voting rights cases resemble the cases brought, often a generation earlier, by black citizens in the South and Latino citizens in the Southwest. But as McDonald explains, Indians occupy a distinctive status within the American political order. Indians are citizens not only of the United States and the state where they reside but often also (and particularly in those regions where they are most likely to bring voting rights claims) of a separate sovereign as well – their tribe. This fact has inflected both the history of Indian disenfranchisement and the course of litigation under the Voting Rights Act.

Part I describes the history of Indian disenfranchisement in light of their distinctive constitutional status. Indians’ exclusion from the political process reflected profound racism as pernicious and pervasive as the discrimination facing blacks in the South and Latinos in the Southwest. But it also involved complex constitutional and conceptual issues unique to Indians, who were excluded from citizenship, even after passage of the Fourteenth Amendment and who remained subject to distinct treatment even after citizenship was conferred. Part II then turns to the relatively recent vote dilution litigation that forms the heart of McDonald’s book. Indian voting rights cases have followed a clear path blazed by earlier cases involving blacks and Latinos. Nevertheless, themes related to Indians’ distinctive political status crop up within the litigation at various points. Finally, Part III looks beyond Indians’ claims under the Voting Rights Act to discuss issues related to internal tribal elections. Like other elections, these contests involve fundamental questions about enfranchisement and electoral design. Tribal answers to these questions sometimes depart dramatically from the rules governing federal, state, and local elections. I talk about two such departures, one related to voting by non-residents and the other related to nonequipopulous voting districts, to show how they that tie into ongoing debates extending far beyond Indian law.

“In Defense of Property” in the Yale Law Journal


Written by Kristen A. Carpenter, Sonia K. Katyal, and Angela R. Riley [View as PDF]
118 Yale L.J. 1022 (2009).

This Article responds to an emerging view, in scholarship and popular society, that it is normatively undesirable to employ property law as a means of protecting indigenous cultural heritage. Recent critiques suggest that propertizing culture impedes the free flow of ideas, speech, and perhaps culture itself. In our view, these critiques arise largely because commentators associate “property” with a narrow model of individual ownership that reflects neither the substance of indigenous cultural property claims nor major theoretical developments in the broader field of property law. Thus, departing from the individual rights paradigm, our Article situates indigenous cultural property claims, particularly those of American Indians, in the interests of “peoples” rather than “persons,” arguing that such cultural properties are integral to indigenous group identity or peoplehood, and deserve particular legal protection. Further, we observe that whereas individual rights are overwhelmingly advanced by property law’s dominant ownership model, which consolidates control in the title-holder, indigenous peoples often seek to fulfill an ongoing duty of care toward cultural resources in the absence of title. To capture this distinction, we offer a stewardship model of property to explain and justify indigenous peoples’ cultural property claims in terms of nonowners’ fiduciary obligations toward cultural resources. We posit that re-envisioning cultural property law in terms of peoplehood and stewardship more fully illuminates both the particular nature of indigenous claims and the potential for property law itself to embrace a broader and more flexible set of interests.