Indian Civil Rights Act

Melissa L. Tatum melissa-koehn at UTULSA.EDU
Thu Aug 17 12:00:50 PDT 2000

At 04:29 PM 8/16/00 -0500, Sandy Levinson wrote:
>A further point for those who defend the (relative) autonomy of Indian
>tribes against federal regulation:  To the extent that the argument depends
>on the desirability of nurturing pluralism, then what, exactly, cannot the
>New York legislature carve out a Satmar Hassid school district as a way of
>nurturing pluralism?  That is, is there anything of a general nature to be
>learned from the place of American Indians within the fabric of American
>constitutional law?  If there is, perhaps that suggests we should try to
>bring to our students' attention that American Indians exist within that

        I've had this discussion with one of my colleagues
several times, and the point I keep coming back to is
that the argument does not and cannot rest on the desire to
nuture pluralism.  That may be some small factor is some way,
but the key is really that tribal governments are sovereign
governments that predate the U.S. government.  As part of the
settlement of the West, the U.S. fought wars and made treaties
with the tribes, but never chose to extinguish the sovereignty
of the tribes.  Limit, yes; eliminate, no.  Thus, tribes are
not just another racial/cultural/ethnic group within the U.S.
They are, rather, sovereign governments and that makes them

This is the point I make to my students when I teach con law.
When I teach con law, I teach the structure and federalism
class.  I find it is easy, both for me and my students, to
get caught up in discussing the nature of the federal govt
and the relationship between the federal and state govt.  While
that is the goal of the class, I do make an effort at several
points in the class to remind the students that the federal
and state governments are not the only sovereign govts within
the fabric of the U.S. -- tribal governments exist and their
role in the U.S. system must be understood.  The problem for
con law class, tho, is that the constitution has very little
to say about that role.  I think it is important, tho, for
students to know that the constitution may be the defining
document for many issues in our legal system, but it does
not cover the totality of the American legal system.

Melissa L. Tatum
Assistant Professor
University of Tulsa College of Law
melissa-tatum at

More information about the Conlawprof mailing list