Associated Press
Sotomayor (with Law Professor Robert Spoo) speaks to University of Tulsa students and faculty in Tulsa, Okla., on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014. She also address issues important to Indian country during her speaking tour in the state.

Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Meets Oklahoma Tribal Leaders & Students


Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor visited Oklahoma University Law School on September 21, and was greeted by a law student in Choctaw.

Kelbi Kennedy, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, welcomed Justice Sotomayor in her native tongue. "Halito, yakoke,” she said, according to KGOU. Then, Kelbi asked, “Would you please share your sense of some the challenges that you and other members of the court face when dealing with Indian law issues?”

“I recently wrote an opinion where I spoke very directly to an issue that I don't think my colleagues recognize and a lot of Americans don't recognize,” Sotomayor said. “I think there is a popular image that Native Americans are rich because of gambling, because of gaming. We hear about the massive amounts that are made by some tribes and think that means that every tribe has their economic problems solved.

“I think it only takes a little bit of travel and exposure to know that it’s not the entire Indian nation that does gaming, that there is massive poverty among many, many tribes,” she said.

In 2011, Sotomayor visited the Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, which was the first time a Supreme Court Justice had met with the tribe in more than 200 years.

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She also told Kennedy:

“I felt obligated to write a concurrence pointing that out because of the way the majority was talking, the centers were talking. It is something that Native Americans have to pay attention to and have to debunk because unless you debunk it, I don't think that you're going to be able to persuade a lot of Americans in public opinion, and that drives legislation, and that drives the responses to your needs, and that can drive some of the reaction to legal questions that affect tribes,” Sotomayor said.

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More than a week earlier, on September 10, Sotomayor visited the University of Tulsa College of Law on a speaking tour in the state, as well as the Oklahoma City University School of Law. During her tour, she met with several Native leaders.

Richard Guest of the Native American Rights Fund was pleased that Sotomayor had met with several leaders in Indian country. “Our record with the Roberts Court has been dismal—two wins and nine losses,” he told the National Law Journal.

After meeting with leaders, Sotomayor told the audience at Oklahoma City University that there were “so many misunderstandings about Native Americans” and that those unresolved issues, such as broken agreements/treaties, “run deep” and “still sting.” 

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