August 12, 2013 Articles

There and Back Again in Indian Country (Almost)

Congress reauthorizes VAWA, granting tribal courts renewed criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit domestic abuse in Indian Country.

By Joseph J. Wiseman – August 12, 2013

The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA) became law on March 7, 2013. Title IX of the act, entitled “Safety for Indian Women,” made several changes to the original statute, but none was so controversial as the decision to allow tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians for domestic abuse. The new law significantly modifies the infamous holding of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, 435 U.S. 191 (1978), a case that significantly diminished tribal sovereignty. However, as noted below, this reauthorization of criminal jurisdiction by Indian tribes leaves unanswered questions regarding the applicability of federal habeas corpus review of tribal-court prosecutions under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

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