Lies, Damn Lies, and Federal Indian Law: The Ethics of Citing Racist Precedent in Contemporary Federal Indian Law



Federal Indian law is rooted in history. Present day Indian law practitioners routinely cite cases from the 1800s. Most of the jurisprudence dealing with Indians in the 1800s is flagrantly racist and based upon grossly erroneous stereotypes about Indians. Contemporary Indian rights continuously erode because federal Indian law remains stuck in the unjust past. This is problematic because it perpetuates a racist legacy but also because lawyers are bound by ethical rules. Lawyers are forbidden from propagating untruths, acting in a manner that discriminates based on race or ethnicity, and engaging in conduct that is prejudicial to the administration of justice. Accordingly, lawyers’ ethical obligations are incompatible with contemporary federal Indian law. This Article offers recommendations on how to purge the racism from federal Indian law.

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