American Indian > Supreme Court and Appellate for Indian Tribes

No other national large firm practice can boast both a full-service American Indian law practice and a nationally recognized Supreme Court and appellate practice. Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP’s American Indian law and policy and Supreme Court and appellate practitioners collaborate closely to offer clients the benefit of the combined knowledge and experience of these widely recognized practices.

Our American Indian law and policy practice provides legal and strategic advice to American Indian tribal governments and other entities that share a commitment to tribal political empowerment, sovereignty and economic development. Our lawyers and consultants design legal strategies, defend tribal rights and formulate public policy recommendations that make it possible for our tribal clients to accomplish their business, legal and political goals.

Akin Gump’s nationally recognized litigation, appellate and Supreme Court practices have extensive experience in areas of key concern to American Indians. From cases involving the protection of treaty rights, gaming eligibility determinations, water rights litigation and settlement negotiations to land claims, sovereignty issues, environmental issues, treaty rights violations, natural resource damage claims and mismanagement of tribal lands, we can assist tribes in effectively protecting their rights.

Supreme Court and Appellate Practice

Appellate advocacy demands three distinct skills: (i) thorough research focused on the types of issues of concern to appellate judges; (ii) the reformulation of issues through trenchant analysis and attentiveness to the rule being sought; and (iii) highly developed written and oral advocacy skills keyed to the unique conditions of the appellate or Supreme Court forum. The consistently successful use of these skills in high-profile, high-stakes cases is the trademark of Akin Gump’s appellate practice. The appellate practice’s success is supported by the firm’s broad-gauged litigation practice, its global scope and the hand-in-glove cooperation among the firm’s practices. Consequently, clients with issues in disciplines as divergent as Indian law, labor and employment, intellectual property and constitutional law are assured of receiving targeted and powerful representation.

Our Team

Akin Gump’s appellate practice is nationally recognized as comprising exceptionally experienced and respected figures in the courtroom. Leading our Supreme Court team is Pratik Shah, who has argued 13 cases (winning 10) before the U.S. Supreme Court and has filed over 150 merits or certiorari-stage briefs in that Court.  Mr. Shah, a former assistant to the solicitor general in the U.S. Department of Justice, has been named by The National Law Journal and Legal Times as one of the top 40 attorneys under 40, and recognized by the Washington Business Journal as a “rising star” who has “practiced before the highest court in the land on some of the most groundbreaking cases of the 21st century.”

The team of lawyers joining Mr. Shah in the Supreme Court and appellate practice brings more than a half-century and hundreds of appeals’ worth of experience to bear on any case. That team includes lawyers with years logged as clerks at almost every level of the judicial system, including the U.S. Supreme Court, state supreme courts, federal appellate circuit courts, federal district courts and bankruptcy courts, as well as the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. As a result, every petition and appeal we handle is fortified by first-hand knowledge both of what judges want to know to decide the case and of how best to present that information.

The Reuters December 2014 Special Report “The Echo Chamber” examined a pool of about 17,000 lawyers and 8,000 law firms doing business at the Supreme Court from 2004 to 2012. Among the 31 leading practices, Akin Gump placed sixth for the volume and success of our certiorari petitions, solidifying our standing in the ranks of “Elite law firms [who] spin gold from a rarefied niche: getting cases before the Supreme Court.” In addition to being named Law360’s Appellate Practice of the Year for 2012, Akin Gump has been a mainstay on The National Law Journal’s “Appellate Hot List” as one of the nation’s top appellate firms each year since it started the awards in 2008. Consistently ranked by Chambers as a leader in the field, the appellate practice was also recognized in Tier 1 nationally in the U.S. News & World Report and Best Lawyers’ fourth annual joint ranking of America’s Best Law Firms.

What all this means for our clients is a seamless continuum of appellate know-how that extends from collaborating with trial counsel on strategic and tactical matters to raise all applicable arguments and make appropriate records at the trial court level through deploying our extensive and hands-on experience on appeal to seeking or preventing Supreme Court review. The depth, breadth and quality of experience possessed by Akin Gump’s appellate practice is such that lawyers from around the country—including accomplished appellate lawyers—regularly consult our lawyers on complex, critical matters.

Representative Engagements

Akin Gump’s experience representing American Indian tribes in Supreme Court and appellate matters includes these examples:

  • Salazar v. Patchak – Supreme Court counsel to the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish (Gun Lake Tribe) Band of Pottawatomi Indians
  • Carcieri v. Salazar – Supreme Court counsel to the Narragansett Indian Tribe
  • United States v. Tohono O’odham Nation – Supreme Court counsel to the Osage Nation as amicus curiae
  • Osage Nation v. Irby – Supreme Court counsel to the Osage Nation 
  • State of Arizona v. Tohono O'Odham Nation-- counsel to Gila River Indian Community in 9thCircuit
  • United States v. Gila Valley Irrigation District– counsel to Gila River Indian Community in 9thCircuit
  • Lower Elwha Klallam Indian Tribe v. Lummi Nation– counsel to the Lummi Nation in 9thCircuit
  • Shugg v. Gila River Indian Community– counsel to Gila River Indian Community in 9thCircuit
  • Nebraska v. NIGC – counsel to Ponca Tribe of Nebraska in 8th Circuit.