Congress and Indians

104 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2013 Last revised: 16 Sep 2015

Date Written: July 6, 2014


Contrary to popular narratives about courts protecting certain minority rights from majoritarian influences, Indian nations lose in the United States Supreme Court over 75 percent of the time. As a result, scholars, tribal leaders, and advocates have suggested that Congress, as opposed to the courts, may be more responsive to Indian interests and have therefore turned to legislative strategies for pursuing and protecting tribal interests. Yet very little is known about the kinds of legislation Congress enacts relating to American Indians. This article charts new territory in this understudied area and responds to recent calls for more empirical legal studies in the field of federal Indian law by enhancing understandings of the amount and kinds of Indian-related legislation enacted by Congress. Based on an analysis of 7799 Indian-related bills, this Article expounds a basic typology of the kinds of Indian-related legislation introduced and enacted by Congress from 1975 to 2013. The Article reports a higher enactment rate for Indian-related legislation than all bills introduced in Congress. This finding problematizes traditional narratives about the success of minority groups in the political process and has serious implications for how scholars and advocates understand congressional policymaking. Further, the Article shows that much of this legislation does not affect Indians alone. Rather, Congress generates a substantial amount of legislation for the general welfare of its citizens, including Indians and Indian nations. It suggests that federal Indian law scholarship, which has focused on legislation specific to Indian nations, has overlooked an important part of the development of federal Indian law and policy. Finally, the Article considers some possible explanations for the higher enactment rate of Indian-related legislation and the implications of this study for congressional policymaking, especially federal Indian law and policy. It confirms the need for further investigation into the different kinds of Indian-related legislation and the complex relationships between Congress and Indians.

Keywords: Congress, American Indians

Suggested Citation

Carlson, Kirsten Matoy, Congress and Indians (July 6, 2014). 86 University of Colorado Law Review 77 (2015), Wayne State University Law School Research Paper No. 2015-01, Available at SSRN:

Kirsten Matoy Carlson (Contact Author)

Wayne State University Law School ( email )

471 Palmer
Detroit, MI 48202
United States

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