President Nixon’s Indian Law Legacy: A Counterstory


Scholars of Federal Indian law have often celebrated President Richard Nixon for advancing tribal interests through legislation and policy initiatives. Far less attention has been paid to his impact on Federal Indian law through the appointments he made to the U.S. Supreme Court. During the time his four appointees served together, the Supreme Court rendered three decisions that are among the most harmful to tribal interests of the modern era. Whether any President should be held responsible for the decisions of his appointees is no simple question. It is worth noting, however, that President Nixon had every reason to know the issues in those three cases would likely reach the Supreme Court. Yet he did not investigate or take into account his appointees’ views on Native issues before making the appointments. Further, for at least one of the appointees—the one most consistently hostile to tribal interests—there was ample evidence of those views had President Nixon cared to check.

About the Author

Jonathan D. Varat Distinguished Professor of Law, UCLA School of Law

By uclalaw