Where to turn for answers to tribal law questions that Westlaw and Lexis don’t address
As tribes continue to develop more and more sophisticated insular court systems, their own constitutions, and their own rules of criminal and civil procedure, Westlaw and Lexis are failing to keep up. So where should can a practitioner of tribal law look for answers online When Westlaw or Lexis have no answers? A great place to start is the National Indian Law Library.
The National Indian Law Library (NILL) is a public law library devoted to federal and Tribal law. Their goal is to develop and make accessible a unique and valuable collection of Indian law resources and to assist people with their Indian law information needs. They accomplish this by publishing Tribal Codes, Tribal Constitutions, Tribal Court Opinions, and treaties.
The materials are searchable by Tribe. While the online database is not complete, the site indicates whether NILL has a paper copy and provides tribal contact information if a paper copy is not in their collection. Most of the constitutions and codes that are available online are via the individual Tribal websites. They are not searchable or annotated. It is difficult to compare the materials in the Westlaw and Lexis databases to these freely available versions because our student subscriptions do not grant us access to these databases. It is telling though that Westlaw has 14 codes, Lexis has 7, and NILL has or provides links to access all 240.
The materials that are not available online can be shipped to the researcher for free or for a nominal charge. NILL’s web page also provides access to the research professionals working in their physical branches. Researchers can submit questions to these professionals via a simple interface on the NILL site. Access to these researchers is free.
While there are advancements to be made, and room for the collection to grow, I find NILL’s site to be a more comprehensive and easier jumping off point than the pay sites at first blush.