Research by Skibine explores 30 years of federal Indian Law in the U.S. Supreme Court

In his latest research, University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Alexander Tallchief Skibine explores federal Indian Law over the past 30 years in the U.S. Supreme Court.  His paper,The Supreme Court’s Last 30 Years of Federal Indian Law:  Looking for Equilibrium or Supremacy? examines the role of the Supreme Court in integrating Indian nations as the third sovereign within the federalist system.

Skibine spoke to the S.J. Quinney College of Law about his latest publication in a Q&A. 


Q:  Describe your latest research. What made you want to explore this particular area?  

A: In this article, I examine the interaction between the Supreme Court and Congress when it comes to defining the exact status of Indian nations within our federalist system.  I achieve this by analyzing how the Congress has responded to the court’s decisions and how the court has reacted to congressional legislation.  I decided on this topic at this particular time for different reasons.  First, I have taught Federal Indian law at the College of Law for close to 30 and I wanted to do a retrospective on what the court has done in the field during the time I have been a professor here.  Secondly, before becoming a professor of law, I had worked for about 10 years as a counsel in the U.S. House of Representatives for the Committee of jurisdiction for most Indian legislation.  This explains my personal interest in examining the interplay between the Congress and the court when it comes to Federal Indian law.  What did I discover in this article? That there is a lot of interplay between the Congress and the court when it comes to decide what institution should take the lead role in defining the status of Indian tribes within our federal system.


Q:  Why is this research important in the context of what is currently happening with Indian law today?

A: Exploring the ebb and flow of the conversation between the Congress and the Supreme Court helps us understand the give and take between these two branches of the federal government. It also helps us determine their respective roles in defining the status of tribes as the third sovereign within the United States legal system.


Q: What’s next for you on the research front?

 A:  In 1985 the Supreme Court issued an opinion stating that even though federal courts had jurisdiction to hear cases challenging the authority (both regulatory and adjudicatory) of Indian tribes over non-tribal members, these non-members had to first exhaust their tribal court remedies.  By that, the court meant that the non-members should first challenge the exercise of tribal authority of them in tribal courts.  That holding should have started some kind of a “dialogue” between the tribal and federal courts.  My next article will look at what has happened to this dialogue in the last 30 years. In some ways, that new article is based on the same idea behind the last article but instead of analyzing the relationship between the Congress and the court, I will be looking at the give and take between the tribal and federal courts.