Carla Pratt joins Supreme Court of Standing Rock Sioux Tribe

April 30, 2012

When the Supreme Court of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe gathers on May 7, they will welcome their newest justice, Penn State Law professor Carla Pratt.

The jurisdiction of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was established in 1889 within the geographic borders of North and South Dakota. The reservation is home to more than 8,000 Indians and 3,000 non-Indians. The Supreme Court of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe is an appellate court that hears cases from the tribe’s trial-level court.

Professor Pratt is looking forward to meeting her colleagues and getting her first batch of cases. She anticipates that serving as a judge will enhance her classroom teaching and help her learn more about tribal law and federal Indian law. “I already encourage my students to think of federalism in terms of not just federal and state power, but tribal power as well,” she said. Professor Pratt teaches or has taught courses in federal Indian law, race and American law, and constitutional law.

Federal Indian law is an issue of immense importance in parts of the United States, she explained. “Students who want to practice law in Oklahoma, Arizona, North Dakota, South Dakota, and other states with large tribal populations need to understand federal Indian law and the balance of power between the federal government, tribes, and the states,” she said, adding that some states now test Indian law on bar exams. “Lawyers sometimes miss the huge business implications as a result of tribal law. For example, tribes have sovereign immunity and generally cannot be sued for a breach of contract unless a waiver of sovereign immunity is expressly included in the underlying contract. Lawyers who miss that are doing a huge disservice to their clients,” she said.

Pratt studies race and the law, with a particular emphasis on the role of law in constructing Indian and African American identity. She most recently co-authored The End of the Pipeline: A Journey of Recognition for African Americans Entering the Profession of Law. Prior to her academic career, Pratt was deputy attorney general of New Jersey and a commercial litigator with Drinker, Biddle & Reath LLP in Philadelphia.

The appointment to the court lasts for one year, and pursuant to the tribe’s constitution, Professor Pratt would need to run for retention to extend her term on the bench.

  • Professor Carla Pratt joined the Supreme Court of the Standing Rock Tribe in April 2012.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 22, 2015