Resisting Federal Courts on Tribal Jurisdiction

54 Pages Posted: 7 May 2010 Last revised: 26 Jan 2016

See all articles by Matthew L. M. Fletcher

Matthew L. M. Fletcher

Michigan State University - College of Law

Date Written: May 6, 2010


This paper is part of a call for a paradigm-shifting re-examination by Indian tribes and Indian people about their place in the American constitutional structure. For tribal advocates to prevail in the federal judiciary, they must force federal judges to rethink everything they know about federal Indian law. There are at least two ways to do this. Tribal advocates and American Indian law scholars must first establish a baseline of knowledge and information about the realities of Indian Country in the 21st century. This work is nascent and ongoing, if not burgeoning, but frankly is far from enough. A second strategy must be a strategy itself, litigation with an eye toward presenting the best cases before the federal judiciary and the Supreme Court. As any litigator knows, facts win a case, not general truths.

In this paper, I argue a theory of tribal consent and resistance to federal government control embodied in the Supreme Court’s assertion of federal court supervision of tribal court civil jurisdiction. The pure federal common law cause of action expounded by the Supreme Court in 1985’s National Farmers Union v. Crow Tribe is ripe for reexamination, if not outright reversal. Tribes never consented to such a broad-based assertion of federal court jurisdiction, although tribes could consent if asked. I propose methods by which tribes and their appellate counsel can resist such jurisdiction, and perhaps in the same breath establish a meaningful recognition by the Supreme Court of the legitimacy of tribal justice systems.

Keywords: tribal courts, tribal jurisdiction, National Farmers Union v. Crow Tribe, Supreme Court, federal Indian law

Suggested Citation

Fletcher, Matthew L. M., Resisting Federal Courts on Tribal Jurisdiction (May 6, 2010). 81 University of Colorado Law Review 973 (2010), MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08-09, Available at SSRN:

Matthew L. M. Fletcher (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

648 N. Shaw
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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