MSU Debate Polls the Professors is an ongoing series where students from the MSU Debate Team interview professors and faculty at Michigan State to augment their yearly research. The year-long college debate resolution this year is “Resolved: The United States should legalize all or nearly all of one or more of the following in the United States: marihuana, online gambling, physician-assisted suicide, prostitution, the sale of human organs.” As part of the team’s research efforts, students ask questions pertaining to the topic of professors from Political Science, Philosophy, Criminal Justice, and Law.
Matthew L.M. Fletcher is Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law and Director of the Indigenous Law and Policy Center. He is a member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, located in Peshawbestown, Michigan. He is the Reporter for the American Law Institute’s Restatement, Third, The Law of American Indians. He sits as the Chief Justice of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians Supreme Court and also sits as an appellate judge for the Grand Traverse Band, the Hoopa Valley Tribe, the Lower Elwha Tribe, the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of Potawatomi Indians, the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians, and the Santee Sioux Tribe of Nebraska.
MSU Debate: Could you explain a bit about federal supremacy and tribal sovereignty in the context of legalization? Would federal legalization of these items make it legal in areas administered by American Indians or would that need to be something that they would address separately? If, for example, the federal government legalized physician assisted suicide, would that still be criminal in areas under tribal jurisdiction?
MF: Presumably if the feds legalized anything it would apply to Indian country. Indian tribes could, however, prohibit whatever the feds legalized and prosecute people under their jurisdiction for that activity. Those people are Indians pretty much exclusively.
MSU Debate: This is somewhat contingent on the first answer but, some argue that federal legalization of marijuana would spur state decriminalization or legalization. Do you think there is the same spillover effect to tribal areas?
MF: Yes and no. Many Indian communities are wracked with drugs and alcohol. In Wash state, the Yakama tribe is steadfastly against legalization. Other tribes are more open to it.
MSU Debate: This is something I don’t know much about but, are there legal concerns as it relates to state/federal legalization of online gambling given that there are American Indian casinos?
MF: This is a huge concern for Indian tribes. They don’t want to be left out the market, so they lobby to be included like everyone else.