Does Supreme Court Nominee Kagan Have A Firm Grasp Of Indian Legal Issues?

Scholars have begun to question the Indian law credentials of Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama's nominee to the to the U.S. Supreme Court. Other than serving on the American Indian Empowerment Fund, which was established by the Oneida Nation, Kagan lacks a record on Indian law or Indian issues. Since joining the Obama administration as Solicitor General at the Department of Justice, she has written briefs in at least five Indian law cases. All of them went against tribal interests.

A particular fact of note regarding Kagan’s approach to Native legal issues is that she never filled a fully-endowed Indian law post at Harvard Law School, where she served as dean. The Oneida Nation of New York funded the The Oneida Indian Nation Professorship of Law with a $3 million donation. The position was created in 2003, under the condition that Harvard hire a full-time, tenured faculty member dedicated to Indian law. Kagan never hired a permanent, tenured faculty member dedicated to Indian law in her six years at the school.
 

National Native American Bar Association Issues Statement On Kagan Nomination To Supreme Court

May 11, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20500

RE: Solicitor General Elena Kagan’s Nomination to the Supreme Court

Dear Mr. President:

Congratulations on your nomination of Solicitor General Elena Kagan to the United State Supreme Court. We are pleased you chose a woman, and clearly General Kagan is a well qualified jurist.
NNABA does not currently have a position on General Kagan’s nomination. We are not yet familiar with her experience with Tribal nations or Federal Indian law. However, we very much look forward to hearing from General Kagan about her views on the Constitutional status of Tribes and the protection of Native American rights. We would like to extend an invitation for General Kagan to meet with NNABA and invite her to Indian Country to visit one of our Nations, to visit our Tribal courts, and meet with our elected Tribal leaders.

Importance of Working Knowledge of Federal Indian law.

Due to the unique Constitutional status of Native American Tribes, a disproportionate percentage of cases before the Supreme Court deal with Tribes and Indian law issues. In addition, federal court decisions often disproportionately affect Natives. Most Indian reservation lands continue to be under “federal trust” and federal criminal law applies in conjunction with tribal law. The Supreme Court oversees this relationship with Tribes and the Federal treaty and trust responsibility to Tribal citizens. There are over 560 federally-recognized Tribes in the United States, located in 35 out of the 50 states.

No Native American Supreme Court Justice, Federal Judge, Or Supreme Court Clerk.

A Native American has never served on the Supreme Court, there is not currently a Native on the federal bench and to the best our knowledge there have been almost no Native American Supreme Court clerks.

NNABA continues to be hopeful that your administration will nominate a Native to the federal bench, and we appreciate any efforts to ensure that all of your federal nominees have a strong working knowledge of Federal Indian law.

Respectfully,

Lael Echo-Hawk
President, National Native American Bar Association