Since it was established in 2001, the National Congress of American Indians and the Native American Rights Fund have jointly coordinated the work of the Tribal Supreme Court Project. The Project was established by tribal leaders in response to a series of devastating losses for Indian tribes before the Supreme Court of the United States. As you may recall, tribes were losing 3 out of every 4 Indian law cases argued before the Court and resulted in decisions significantly eroding the doctrine of inherent tribal sovereignty. Our work has focused on coordinating tribal resources throughout Indian country and bringing the best legal minds to the table to develop litigation strategies to put forward the strongest legal arguments when litigation could not be avoided. But our message to tribes became and remains: “Stay away from the Supreme Court!”
During its early years, the Project experienced relative success with tribes increasing their winning percentage to greater than 50% – winning 4, losing 3, and 2 draws in the 9 Indian law cases heard by the Rehnquist Court. But since 2005, with the installment of John Roberts as Chief Justice, the retirement of Justices O’Connor, Souter and Stevens, the tribes winning percentage has plummeted to 10% with 1 win and 9 losses in the 10 Indian law cases heard by the Roberts Court.Â And neither Chief Justice Roberts nor Justice Alito has voted in favor of tribal interests in a single case.
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