The subject matter of this Restatement predates the birth of our nation. Some of the most important early decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, including ones authored by Chief Justice John Marshall, deal with the Law of American Indians. And tribes, along with the federal government and the states, are one of the three categories of sovereigns in the United States. (Excerpted from the Forward of Tentative Draft No. 1 by ALI Director Richard L. Revesz)

This field is so informed by history, probably more than any other in some ways. … Certainly in the field of Indian affairs, a lot of damage has been done in the past, and there are a lot of challenges for the future just to get things right from the perspective of those of us who believe that tribes should have a voice in this society, and that there are good rules to help bolster that voice. (Excerpted from an interview with Associate Reporter Kaighn Smith)

A significant portion of Chapter 1 (Federal-Tribal Relationships) has been approved by ALI’s membership.  This chapter contains General Terms, Federal–Tribal Relationship, American Indian Treaty Law, Federal Legislation, and Breach of Trust Claims.

Additional planned chapters:

  • Chapter 2 will focus on the powers of Indian tribes, including the power to determine what form of government tribes will develop, to determine the criteria for membership in the tribe, and also to legislate with respect to a wide variety of matters like taxation.
  • Chapter 3 will address tribal-state relations.
  • Chapter 4 is going to address two aspects of economic development in Indian country; tribes as economic actors, and tribes as economic regulators.
  • Chapter 5 will address an issue that is at the forefront in Indian law policy right now – Indian country criminal jurisdiction.

Senate bills would expand tribal jurisdiction

Language in a bill currently going through the Senate states, “Congress finds that American Indian children and Alaska Native children experience PTSD at a rate of 22 percent, which is the same rate at which Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans experience PTSD.” Several bills have been introduced during this Congress to help combat that staggering rate and, at the same time, increase tribal jurisdiction in several other areas.

When Patents are Sovereigns: The Competitive Harms of Leasing Tribal Immunity

Under the Hatch-Waxman and America Invents Acts, Congress has established a system for judicial and administrative review of prescription-drug patents that balances exclusive rights for patent holders and the entry of generic competitors. Threatening this balance, the pharmaceutical company Allergan recently transferred prescription drug patents to the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe, a federally recognized Indian tribe. Because tribal sovereign immunity limits the jurisdiction of courts and other adjudicatory bodies to hear cases involving tribal interests, such actions by brand-name pharmaceutical companies may prevent generic companies and other parties from invalidating patents, likely leading to higher drug prices.

Congressional Power and Sovereignty in Indian Affairs

The doctrine of inherent tribal sovereignty — that tribes retain aboriginal sovereign governing power over people and territory — is under perpetual assault. Despite two centuries of precedential foundation, the doctrine must be defended afresh with each attack. Opponents of the doctrine of tribal sovereignty express skepticism of the doctrine, suggesting that tribal sovereignty is a nullity because it is not unfettered. Some pay lip service to the doctrine while undermining tribes in their exercise of inherent sovereignty.

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