Worcester Sovereignty Project

The University of Tulsa College of Law, a national leader in Indian law with its Native American Law Center, dedicates substantial resources to teaching Indian law and supporting the Indian legal community. As a private school not operationally accountable to any state legislature, the College is uniquely positioned to lead the Worcester Sovereignty Project (WSP), designed to protect and advance tribal sovereignty.

The foundational principles of Native American tribal sovereignty established in Worcester v. Georgia, a landmark 1833 U.S. Supreme Court case, have been steadily eroded in the courts in recent years. Since 1985, Indian Nations lost more than 80 percent of tribal sovereignty cases. By 2001, Worcester's principles lay on their deathbed, as noted by Justice Scalia in Nevada v. Hicks (2001): "State sovereignty does not end at a reservation's border. Though tribes are often referred to as 'sovereign' entities, it was 'long ago' that "the Court departed from Chief Justice Marshall's view that the laws of [a state] can have no force within reservation boundaries." Worcester v. Georgia, 6 Pet. 515, 8 L.Ed. 483 (1833).

Adverse decisions like Nevada v. Hicks open the door for state rule over Indian Nations, thereby seriously hampering tribal governments' efforts to exercise their historical sovereignty rights. For example, in the recent case of Osage Nation v. Irby (2010), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that the Osage Indian Reservation has been disestablished.

Given these current and emerging threats to tribal sovereignty, it is clear that the programs comprising The University of Tulsa College of Law's proposed Worcester Sovereignty Project are essential for training an increasing number of tribal sovereignty advocates and providing federally recognized Indian Nations with legal assistance in defending and exercising their sovereignty rights.

The five proposed components of the project are:

Scholarship Program

Need-based scholarships will create more opportunities for potential advocates in TU’s Native American Law JD certificate program and its LLM program in American Indian and Indigenous Law.

Field Studies Program

Students will have opportunities to earn 2 to 12 academic credit hours while gaining practice experience under the supervision of an attorney. Externs will do on-site, unpaid externships with federally recognized Indian nations, other Indigenous People, law firms, government organizations, and other organizations that provide services to Indian nations or other Indigenous Peoples at home and abroad.

Law Clinic

The mission of the clinic will be to provide high-quality clinical legal education to students while also helping tribal governments and other Indigenous leaders who seek legal assistance concerning sovereignty issues.

Defense Partners Program

For work that cannot be handled by the WSP Law Clinic, the College of Law will partner with Native American advocacy organizations. These partnerships will involve cooperative agreements for work referrals and the placement of externs. 

Policy Review Center

The Policy Review Center will consist of a group of scholars and professionals with expertise in tribal sovereignty and indigenous rights. Indian Nations, other Indigenous Peoples, and relevant organizations and entities may refer complicated sovereignty policy issues to the center for policy analysis and formulation of issue papers, policy prescriptions, and legislative strategies.