Who Can Tribal Courts Try?
On Monday, the Dollar General Corporation—a huge chain-store enterprise with revenues of nearly $19 billion and more than 100,000 employees—will ask the Supreme Court to hold that none of America’s Indian tribal courts—not one of the more than 175 operating in the country—is fit to adjudicate ordinary tort disputes involving non-Indians.
Tribal courts, the company argues, are poorly organized and badly run; lack independence from tribal governments; don’t respect constitutional rights; and enforce “tribal law, custom, and traditions” rather than actual law. They aren’t really courts at all. As Brendan Johnson, a former U.S. attorney and experienced Indian-law litigator, recently said, “The premise of Dollar General’s case is that tribal courts are inherently incompetent and biased against non-members.”