Equal Footing: ABA Recognizes Members of Tribal Courts as Bar Members

By: Theodore J. Griswold | Partner | ted.griswold@procopio.com

The American Bar Association (ABA) has long recognized the important role of human rights relating to Native American people and their way of life (see ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS AND JURISDICTION ON TRIBAL LANDS, an article originally published in Human Rights Magazine, a publication of the American Bar Association Section of Individual Right and Responsibilities). Ironically, with an eye toward the needs of tribal communities, the ABA has not previously recognized the legal professionals who create the Native American bar as part of the ABA. This has left an entire type of sovereigns without the ability to join the ABA. Now that has changed.

The previous ABA membership policy allowed for anyone who was licensed in a state, federal or territorial jurisdiction (like Guam or Puerto Rico) could join the ABA as a full member. But that policy did not extend to those who are licensed through a tribal court of a federally recognized tribal government. This left a class of legal professionals who were denied full membership opportunities because they practiced solely in a tribal court.

This week, thanks to Sponsors Danny Van Horn and Mary Smith, the ABA opened full membership opportunities to tribal court practitioners. The ABA adopted an ABA Constitutional change so that they now recognize members of tribal bar associations as full members of the ABA – at long last putting tribal court bar membership on equal footing with the bars of states and territories of the United States.

  • Rule 3.1 Members. Any person of good moral character in good standing at the bar of a state, territory, possession, or tribal court of any federally recognized tribe of the United States is eligible to be a member of the Association in accordance with the Bylaws.

We applaud the ABA for taking this inclusive measure in affirming the critical role tribal court practitioners have in ensuring justice throughout the United States in the more than 565 federally recognized tribal governments.



Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.