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.

We are uniquely situated to blend the depth of our American Indian experience with our firm’s appellate experience, top-flight advocacy skills, and hands-on approach to litigation. Akin Gump’s industry leading 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, Indian Child Welfare Act issues, natural resource damage claims and mismanagement of tribal lands, we can assist tribes in effectively protecting their rights.

Our Team

Akin Gump’s appellate practice is nationally recognized as comprising exceptionally experienced and respected figures in the courtroom. Leading our Supreme Court/Appellate team in Indian law matters is Pratik Shah, who has argued 14 cases (prevailing in all but three) before the U.S. Supreme Court and has filed over 150 merits or certiorari-stage briefs in that Court. Mr. Shah has been ranked among the country’s top appellate litigators by a number of leading publications. He has been noted as “practicing before the highest court in the land on some of the most groundbreaking cases of the 21st century” (Washington Business Journal) and recognized as “one of the brightest and most personable members of the appellate bar” with “complete mastery of the facts and law of a case” (Chambers USA 2016-17).

Mr. Shah has extensive experience in Supreme Court and appellate matters involving Indian tribes. During his tenure as an Assistant to the Solicitor General in U.S. Department of Justice, Mr. Shah received the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s “Special Commendation” for his work on American Indian cases. Since joining Akin Gump, Mr. Shah has successfully handled numerous federal court appeals on behalf of Indian tribes (including three consecutive Ninth Circuit victories), and recently argued another U.S. Supreme Court case in a constitutional separation-of-powers case relating to tribal trust status of certain property (2017 Term).

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, and federal appellate circuit courts. 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.

Consistently ranked by Chambers as a leader in the field, the appellate practice has also been recognized on the National Law Journal’s “Appellate Hot List” and in Tier 1 nationally in the U.S. News & World Report/Best Lawyers’ annual joint ranking of America’s Best Law Firms. Most recently, Akin Gump was recognized as one of the top three appellate practices nationwide, according to Corporate Counsel’s 2017 “Best of Corporate Counsel” list, which was determined by individuals working within in-house corporate legal and compliance departments. In addition, The Reuters December 2014 Special Report placed Akin Gump sixth among all practices 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.”

Representative Engagements

In just the last three years, Akin Gump’s experience representing American Indian tribes in Supreme Court and appellate matters includes these examples:

  • Patchak v. Zinke, No. 16-498 (S. Ct. 2018) (successfully briefed and argued separation-of-powers/sovereign immunity issue for Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians)
  • Penobscot Nation v. Mills, No. 2016-1424 (1st) (en banc petition on behalf of Penobscot Nation in Settlement Act dispute) (pending)
  • Crow Allottees v. United States, Nos. 15-779, 15-1327 (S. Ct.) (successfully represented Crow Tribe in defending Montana Supreme Court victory relating to water compact against multiple certiorari petitions)
  • United States v. Gila Valley Irrigation District (9th Cir. 2017) (successful appeal for tribe’s water rights under federal consent decree)
  • Lyon v. Gila River Indian Community (9th Cir. 2017) (successful vacatur of adverse trial judgment for lack of Article III jurisdiction and dismissal of claim for implied easement over tribe’s reservation)
  • Yazzie/The Hopi Tribe v. EPA, Nos. 14-73100, 14-73101, 14-73102, 14-73055 (9th Cir. 2017) (successfully represented Intervenor Gila River Indian Community in defending EPA rule against various statutory and constitutional challenges)
  • Lower Elwa Klallam Indian Tribe v. Lummi Nation (9th Cir. 2014) (successful reversal of summary judgment in tribal treaty fishing rights case)