Tribal Sovereign Immunity and the Indian Civil Rights Act
Indian tribes are unique political entities, and the relation between a tribe and the United States is “perhaps unlike that of any other two people in existence.” 1 They are not foreign nations separate and apart from the United States; instead they are “domestic dependent nations” 2 located within United States territory that have certain retained inherent powers of self-government. 3 Consistent with this quasi-sovereign status, Indian tribes are not parties to the United States Constitution and derive no power or obligations directly from it 4 despite being mentioned twice. 5 Tribes thus are not subject to the limitations on governmental action contained in the Bill of Rights or the Fourteenth Amendment.
This chapter examines two related features of the unique sovereign status of Indian tribes. First, an important incident of such status is a substantial measure of immunity from unconsented suit in any court. Although some members of the United States Supreme Court have questioned the doctrine's propriety, immunity from suit remains an important manifestation of tribal sovereignty, particularly in view of the broad array of governmental and commercial activity in which tribes now engage. 6 Second, in recognition____________________