Jenner & Block has hired an eight-member group that handles Native American law just a week after the firm scored a major victory at the U.S. Supreme Court that affirmed tribal sovereignty and could lead to further litigation.
The new hires include partners Keith Harper, Charles Galbraith, and Robert Harmala, who join the firm in Washington from Kilpatrick Townsend. Harper, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, will be chair of the Native American law practice.
Galbraith will also co-chair the practice. He served in the Obama White House where he managed the relationship between the administration and tribal governments and Native American people. Harmala will serve as chair of the firm’s government relations practice.
The group, formed at Kilpatrick Townsend upon Harper’s arrival in 2006, represents Native Indian tribes across the country on issues including litigation and government relations with states and federal agencies.
Those issues are poised to come to the fore on the heals of Jenner & Block partner Ian Heath Gershengorn’s represention of Jimcy McGirt before the Supreme Court. McGirt, a member of the Seminole Nation argued that the state couldn’t prosecute him since his crimes took place on Creek reservation land.
McGirt’s case rose to the Supreme Court and resulted last week in a 5-4 ruling penned by Justice Neil Gorsuch affirming the 19th-century reservation status of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The court’s decision arguably means that vast swaths of Oklahoma remain tribal territory, at least when it comes to federal criminal law.
Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, saying the ruling could have consequences for the state’s authority over Indian affairs including zoning, taxation, family, and environmental law.
Harper said the McGirt decision requires treaties to be interpreted today the same as they were intended at the time by Congress. He said that will lead to additional attempts for tribes to secure their land, calling it “the most important decision in Indian law in the last 20 to 25 years.”
“It does come with some significant implications around whether the state can tax or the tribe can tax,” Harper said. “At the end of the day what it’s going to do is create greater state-tribal cooperation. Because states and tribes want safety and security for their constituents, and in order to do that they will have to work together cooperatively.”
“Commitment to Indian Country”
The others set to join Jenner later this month are special counsel Lawrence Roberts, associates Krystalyn Kinsel and Julian SpearChief-Morris, senior government relations specialist Craig Williams, and junior government relations specialist Joshua Bertalotto.
The group includes tribal citizens of the Cherokee Nation, Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of Louisiana, Blood Tribe (Kainai Nation) of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and two citizens of the Navajo Nation, Jenner & Block said in a statement.
Jenner & Block partner Adam Unikowsky in 2019 won a different Supreme Court tribal treaty rights case, in which the justices upheld the tribe’s rights under an 1855 treaty. Harper said Jenner’s “commitment to Indian country” was appealling to the group.
“We are bringing that together with a practice group that shares those same values,” he said. “So we think that sets up a team that can really take Indian law to the next level. And that is where we’d like to see it go.”