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Rethinking Customary Law in Tribal Court Jurisprudence

Matthew L.M. Fletcher, Michigan State University College of Law

Abstract

Customary law still appears in many of the decisions of American state and federal courts. Customary law, part and parcel of the English common law adopted and adapted by the Founders of the United States, recurs less often given that statutory and administrative law dominate the field. In contrast, the importance of customary law in American Indian tribal courts cannot be understated. Indian tribes now take every measure conceivable to preserve Indigenous cultures and restore lost cultural knowledge and practices. Tribal court litigation, especially litigation involving tribal members and issues arising out of tribal law, often turns on the ancient customs and traditions of the people. But this development of applying customary law in tribal courts is new and undertheorized. For the first time, this Article attempts to provide an adequate theory as to how tribal judges should find and apply customary law on a normative level. This paper argues that tribal judges have a great deal to learn from H.L.A. Hart’s theory of primary and secondary rules.

Suggested Citation

Matthew L.M. Fletcher. "Rethinking Customary Law in Tribal Court Jurisprudence" Michigan Journal of Race & Law 13.1 (2007).
Available at: http://works.bepress.com/matthew_fletcher/5

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