Tribal Civil Judicial Jurisdiction Over Nonmembers: A Practical Guide for Judges

51 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2010

See all articles by Sarah Krakoff

Sarah Krakoff

University of Colorado Law School

Date Written: July 15, 2010


This article provides a summary of the law of tribal court civil jurisdiction over persons who are not members of the governing tribe (hereafter nonmembers) followed by an analysis of trends in the lower courts. It was written to respond to a consensus view at “The Next Great Generation of American Indian Law Judges” Conference at the University of Colorado Law School, January 2010, that a concise, practical, yet in-depth treatment of this subject would be useful to the judiciary as well as practitioners. The article traces the development of the Supreme Court’s common law of tribal civil judicial jurisdiction from 1959 through the present. Next, it surveys all published lower federal court decisions from 1997-2010. Lower courts have upheld exercises of tribal jurisdiction in several cases that fit well within the Supreme Court’s increasingly narrow parameters for exercises of tribal authority over nonmembers. Those contexts include: (1) claims arising directly from a nonmember’s consensual relationship with the tribe or tribal members, and (2) claims that involve nonmember conduct on tribal lands that either harms the land itself, or presents a challenge to the tribe’s ability to provide for peace and security for tribal members. Despite the emergence of some clarity in the law, it is apparent nonetheless how cumbersome the process of litigating tribal court cases against nonmembers has become. Nonmember defendants challenge even clear examples of tribal jurisdiction, resulting in delay, multiplication of expenses, and insecurity for the parties. A better sense of the Supreme Court’s boundaries for tribal jurisdiction might help to reduce the problems otherwise associated with the double-layer of review to which all tribal court cases involving nonmembers are subject.

Keywords: sovereignty, common law, tribal courts, American Indian law, nonmembers

Suggested Citation

Krakoff, Sarah, Tribal Civil Judicial Jurisdiction Over Nonmembers: A Practical Guide for Judges (July 15, 2010). University of Colorado Law Review, Vol. 81, 2010, U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-21, Available at SSRN:

Sarah Krakoff (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

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