NCAI Urges Senate to Consider Judge Kavanaugh’s Views on Federal Indian Law and the Governmental Status of Tribal Nations During Upcoming Confirmation Process

Published on Jul 10, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. | The United States Senate faces a momentous decision in the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Jefferson Keel, President of the National Congress of American Indians, urges the Senate to consider Judge Kavanaugh’s views on the law as it pertains to tribal nations: “Unfortunately, many law schools leave tribal nations and federal Indian law out of their curriculum. Too many judges encounter Indian law questions for the first time on the bench. Most have never visited an Indian reservation. Tribes strongly encourage the Senate to consider the nominee’s understanding of and experience with federal Indian law, specifically his commitment to uphold the unique political status of tribal governments under the U.S. Constitution and treaties with the United States during the confirmation process.” NCAI and its partner the Native American Rights Fund will analyze Judge Kavanaugh’s record in the coming weeks.

NCAI Executive Director Jacqueline Pata urged consideration of Kavanaugh’s views on other issues of great importance to tribal nations such as climate change. For example, Justice Kennedy was the swing vote on Massachusetts v. EPA, an important decision regarding the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. “Indigenous peoples of North America depend on local natural resources more directly than other populations, and are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change,” said Pata. “Native foods and fisheries are declining, and tribal access to traditional foods and medicines is often limited by reservation boundaries. The federal trust responsibility merits strong and urgent action to preserve the vitality, uniqueness, and diversity of tribal ecosystems and cultures. The Supreme Court will have an increasingly important role in protecting these resources for future generations.”

Pata also urged the Senate to consider voting rights during the confirmation process, where Kennedy was the pivotal fifth vote on decisions that limited voting rights: “Voting rights are first-generation rights along with freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial, and freedom of religion. Yet American Indian and Alaska Native voters continue to encounter language barriers, enormous distances to polling places, arbitrary changes in voter identification laws, purged voter rolls, and intimidation and animosity in reservation border towns that disenfranchise Native voters. Equal access to voting is not only a matter of fairness, but it is a fundamental civil right afforded to all citizens, including American Indians and Alaska Natives.”  

NCAI President Jefferson Keel urged tribal leaders to closely follow the confirmation proceedings for Judge Kavanaugh: “Justice Kennedy was a key vote on many important issues for Indian Country and the country at large. It is critical that we all communicate with our Senators about the pending confirmation vote to ensure that tribal sovereignty and treaty rights are honored by the Supreme Court for decades to come.”


About the National Congress of American Indians:
Founded in 1944, the National Congress of American Indians is the oldest, largest and most representative American Indian and Alaska Native organization in the country. NCAI advocates on behalf of tribal governments and communities, promoting strong tribal-federal government-to-government policies, and promoting a better understanding among the general public regarding American Indian and Alaska Native governments, people and rights. For more information visit

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