Justice Sotomayor studied Indian law after joining top court

President Barack Obama with Sonia Sotomayor and Vice President Joe Biden at the White House. Official photo by Pete Souza / Flickr

Justice Sonia Sotomayor has emerged as a strong voice for Indian Country since joining the U.S. Supreme Court.

But the former judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals knew almost nothing about Indian law when she was sworn in on August 8, 2009. So she did “a lot of reading,” The National Law Journal reported, and went back to some of the court's earliest decisions regarding tribal sovereignty.

“I had to familiarize myself with the Supreme Court's jurisprudence in that area, from its foundation. And I think that probably helps when you're forced to go back to square one completely because I didn't go in with any preconceived notions of our jurisprudence,” Sotomayor said during a visit to the University of Oklahoma School of Law, KGOU reported.

Sotomayor has sided with tribal interests in five out of six Indian law cases since 2009: Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community in 2014; Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl in 2013; Salazar v. Patchak in 2012; Salazar v. Ramah Navajo Chapter in 2012; and US v. Jicarilla Apache Nation in 2011. Tribes did not prevail in Adoptive Couple, Patchak and Jicarilla Apache but Sotomayor authored dissents supporting tribal interests.

The one case in which Sotomayor sided against tribal interests was US v. Tohono O'odham Nation in 2011. The ruling was unanimous against the Tohono O'odham Nation.

Get the Story:
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Urges Native Americans To Debunk Their Own Myths (KGOU 9/17)
Arm in a Cast, Sotomayor Tours Oklahoma and Meets Tribal Leaders (The National Law Journal 9/17)
Sotomayor covers wide range of topics at OU (The Ada News 9/14)

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