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Dividing Sovereignty in Tribal and Territorial Criminal Jurisdiction

76 Pages Posted: 26 Nov 2013  

Zachary S. Price

University of California Hastings College of the Law

Date Written: April 2013


In both federal Indian law and the law regarding United States territories, the Supreme Court in recent decades has shown increasing skepticism about previously tolerated elements of constitutionally unregulated local governmental authority. This Article proposes a framework for resolving constitutional questions raised by the Court’s recent cases in these areas. Focusing on the criminal context, where the stakes are highest both for individual defendants and for the affected communities, this Article considers three issues: (1) whether and under what circumstances Congress may confer criminal jurisdiction on tribal and territorial governments without requiring that those governments’ enforcement decisions be subject to federal executive supervision; (2) whether double jeopardy should bar successive prosecution by both the federal government and a tribal or territorial government exercising federally authorized criminal jurisdiction; and (3) what, if any, constitutional procedural protections apply when a tribal or territorial government exercises criminal jurisdiction pursuant to such federal authorization.

Through close examination of these three questions, this Article aims to show that framing the analysis in terms of divided sovereignty, and recognizing the close parallels between tribal, territorial, and related federal-state contexts, may yield the most attractive resolutions that are viable in light of the Supreme Court’s recent decisions. This Article contrasts this approach with an alternative framework that would organize the analysis around a distinction between “inherent” and “delegated” governmental authority.

Suggested Citation

Price, Zachary S., Dividing Sovereignty in Tribal and Territorial Criminal Jurisdiction (April 2013). Available at SSRN: or

Zachary Price (Contact Author)

University of California Hastings College of the Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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