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Resisting Congress: Free Speech and Tribal Law

THE INDIAN CIVIL RIGHTS ACT AT FORTY, Kristen A. Carpenter, Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Angela R. Riley eds., UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2012

MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-05

29 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2012 Last revised: 7 Apr 2012

Matthew L. M. Fletcher

Michigan State University College of Law

Date Written: March 13, 2012

Abstract

Congress codified the unsettled tension between American civil rights law and American Indian tribal law, customs, and traditions in American Indian communities by enacting the Indian Civil Rights Act (ICRA) in 1968. Concerned that individual rights were receiving short shrift in tribal courts and by tribal governments,Congress chose to apply a modified form of the Bill of Rights on tribal governments. In other words, Congress chose to impose American legal norms on Indian governments in order to protect those under tribal jurisdiction.As it had done previously in statutes such as the Indian Reorganization Act, Congress affirmatively sought to displace tribal law — and all the attendant customs and traditions, as well as Indian values — with American law. Ironically, after the Supreme Court interpreted ICRA in 1978, this law could only be interpreted and enforced by tribal courts. Tribal law and American civil rights law have been at odds in many tribal communities ever since, as tribal voters, legislatures, and courts have struggled with how (and whether) to apply American civil rights law in Indian country.

In this chapter, I explore several questions relating to tribal courts, tribal governments, and the Indian Civil Rights Act. For example, do tribal decision makers (i.e., voters, legislatures, and especially courts) deviate from the state and federal government and court interpretations of the Bill of Rights in applying ICRA; and if so, how much and in what way? Do tribal decision makers apply or incorporate tribal law, customs, and traditions into their decisions relating to civil rights under ICRA (and tribal laws that incorporate ICRA’s provisions); and if so, how? Are tribal decision makers truly bound by the provisions of the ICRA?The last question begs a final question: Does Congress have authority to force tribal decision makers how to decide civil rights disputes?

Keywords: free speech, freedom of religion, tribal courts, tribal law, Indian Civil Rights Act, Congress, American Indian law

Suggested Citation

Fletcher, Matthew L. M., Resisting Congress: Free Speech and Tribal Law (March 13, 2012). THE INDIAN CIVIL RIGHTS ACT AT FORTY, Kristen A. Carpenter, Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Angela R. Riley eds., UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2012; MSU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 10-05. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2021166

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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