David Frederick, co-director of the Supreme Court Clinic at The University of Texas at Austin Law School, will argue a case involving the jurisdiction of American Indian tribal courts, one of the most important Indian law cases to reach the high U.S. Supreme Court in the last decade, before the high court on April 14.
Faculty and 12 students from the Supreme Court Clinic will watch Frederick, a Law School alumnus, argue Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land and Cattle Company (No. 07-411). The case deals with the jurisdiction of Indian tribal courts over non-Indians.
This is the Supreme Court Clinic's first argument before the Court. (The high court granted certiorari in a previous clinic case but the parties settled that case before briefs were filed.)
The clinic represents Ronnie and Lila Long, members of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe in South Dakota who are asking the Supreme Court to uphold the jurisdiction of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court over the non-Indian bank that seeks to repossess land that has been in the Long family for generations. If the clinic succeeds, the Longs will be able to retain their land.
The clinic is arguing that tribal court jurisdiction over the bank was proper because the bank had entered into a longstanding, consensual relationship with the Longs. If the Longs lose at the Supreme Court it will effectively mean the jurisdiction of tribal courts will be so diminished they will only be able to adjudicate disputes between Indians.
Shortly after the bank persuaded the Supreme Court to hear the case, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF), a non-profit legal advocacy organization that provides legal services to Indians, contacted Frederick, a partner at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans and Figel, P.L.L.C., in Washington, D.C. NARF, in coordination with the National Congress of American Indians, oversees the Tribal Supreme Court Project. Frederick offered the services of the clinic to represent the Long family pro bono before the Supreme Court.
Richard Guest, staff attorney with NARF who is serving as co-counsel for the Long family, said the collaboration has been beneficial for everyone involved.
NARF attorney Melody McCoy, who is also working on the case, said, "The involvement of both NARF and the clinic has allowed the Long family to benefit from our expertise in Indian law and the clinic's expertise in Supreme Court practice."
"Individuals such as the Longs generally can't invest the same resources in a case as a bank. We're pleased that we've been able to level the playing field by offering experienced Supreme Court representation at no cost to the Longs," said Professor Michael Sturley, one of the clinic's directors at the School of Law.
"This case is very significant for the clinic. It is our first opportunity for the students to work on the full process of merits briefing and preparation for oral argument. It is also the first time that we've represented the respondents rather than the petitioner, which means that the students are getting the opportunity to defend the lower court's judgment."
"The progress of the clinic over the past year has been astounding," said Professor Lynn Blais, who also directs the clinic at the School of Law. "In only our second year our students are helping draft a brief on the merits and will have the opportunity to see a case they have worked on argued in front of the Court. These are experiences that many attorneys do not have in their entire careers, much less during law school."
"The Supreme Court Clinic provides a great learning experience for our students," said Larry Sager, dean of the School of Law. "It exposes them to the workings of one of the most important tribunals in the world, without losing sight of the human stakes in the outcomes of these cases."
Jim Hurley, a South Dakota attorney with Bangs, McCullen, Butler, Foye and Simmons, L.L.P., in Rapid City, served as co-counsel on the brief. Hurley has represented the Longs as their lead counsel since they first filed their case in the tribal court until the appeal in the Eighth Circuit Court.