Why Doesn’t Heidi Heitkamp Support Fair Trials For The Accused?

Heidi Heitkamp

Senator Heidi Heitkamp is on a statewide tour touting the Senate’s passage of the Violence Against Women Act. The intent of Heitkamp’s tour is blatantly political – Rep. Kevin Cramer will be up for re-election at the top of the statewide ballot next year, and Heitkamp clearly intends to use the VAWA as a wedge issue against Cramer.

But the bill has problems in the Republican-controlled House, as the Fargo Forum reports:

As passed by the Senate, the bill included new protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims and a provision that would allow non-Native Americans accused of assaulting Indian women on reservations to be tried in tribal courts. …

Heitkamp said one of the issues between the Republican-controlled House and Democrat-led Senate last year was a plan to protect undocumented immigrant victims. That provision was taken out of the new Senate bill to be included in an immigration reform bill, she said, but the other new elements may lead to “some amount of consternation” in the House.

There’s no doubt that House Republicans are going to have a problem with the VAWA, and there’s no doubt that political opportunists like Heitkamp will claim a “war on women.”

But let’s be clear, Heitkamp is doubling-down on provisions in this law which undermine the rights of those accused of crimes on reservations to a fair trial. “I will not support a Violence Against Women Act that does not have a provision for Native American women for protection on the reservations,” she said.

Yet the problem with giving tribal courts jurisdiction over non-tribal members in these cases is that it’s doubtful non-tribal members can get a fair trial in tribal courts. It may be an inconvenient truth, but tribal courts are notoriously corrupt. Many tribal judges have minimal, if any, legal training. And juries pulled from pools that are almost exclusively tribal members don’t meet legal requirements for impartial juries.

Heitkamp, who was once North Dakota’s Attorney General, has to know the position she’s putting non-tribal citizens accused of crimes in. But she doesn’t care. Because the politics of this situation are just too convenient for her.

Which doesn’t speak highly for Heitkamp’s character.

The provision for tribal jurisdiction over non-tribal members is an egregious assault on the rights of the accused, and House Republicans will be right to reject it on those grounds, but that won’t stop Heitkamp from singing the “war on women” song anyway.

It’s called the criminal justice system, and while we need to make sure that we do get justice for the victims of crime, we need to ensure that the process is fair to those who are accused of crimes. The VAWA doesn’t do that.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Sandy Buckweiller

    Heidi is a domestic terrorist & should be arrested by the citizens of North Dakota for her anti-constitutional views & hatred for the citizens of North Dakota. Heidi you are the Jessie Jackson Jr. of North Dakota.

    • Matthew Hawkins

      You certainly brought the wingnuts out with this post.

      • Sandy Buckweiller

        your comments and internet movements maybe track and used against you in a court of law.

        • Matthew Hawkins

          I stand by my original comments, crazy lady.

          • Sandy Buckweiller

            I invite you to come to my mosque or are you a bigger racist then you seem?

          • Matthew Hawkins

            Give me the address of your mosque, but I fail to understand how standing up for Indian sovereignty makes me racist.

          • Sandy Buckweiller

            2102 6th Ave S. Fargo, North Dakota 58103
            you are a very bad man. Hating an African-American Muslim woman.

          • Matthew Hawkins

            Maybe on the next vacation I take to Fargo.

            I still don’t understand how my standing up for Indian Sovereignty makes my a racist or a misogynist.

          • Sandy Buckweiller

            Have you ever been convicted of a hate crime or have you never been brought to justice for your hatred actions? You are the worst racist as you believe your actions are normal.

          • Matthew Hawkins

            Explain them to me.

          • SusanBeehler

            Are you for real?

          • Sandy Buckweiller

            do you hate all women or just your mom?

    • SusanBeehler

      No she is NOT! Why would you say she hates the citizens of North Dakota? Why do you call her domestic terrorist?

  • Matthew Hawkins

    Here is the holding in the Supreme Court case Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, 435 U.S. 191

    “We recognize that some Indian tribal court systems have become increasingly sophisticated, and resemble in many respects their state counterparts. We also acknowledge that, with the passage of the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, which extends certain basic procedural rights to anyone tried in Indian tribal court, many of the dangers that might have accompanied the exercise by tribal courts of criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians only a few decades ago have disappeared. Finally, we are not unaware of the prevalence of non-Indian crime on today’s reservations which the tribes forcefully argue requires the ability to try non-Indians. [Footnote 18] But these are considerations for Congress to weigh in deciding whether Indian tribes should finally be authorized to try non-Indians. They have little relevance to the principles which lead us to conclude that Indian tribes do not have inherent jurisdiction to try and to punish non-Indians. The judgments below are therefore


    It is clear from this holding that even though tribes don’t have inherent authority to try non-tribal members it can be legally granted by Congress, which this law does.

    However, I agree with the dissent,

    ” Mr. Justice MARSHALL, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE joins, dissenting.

    I agree with the court below that the “power to preserve order on the reservation . . . is a sine qua non of the sovereignty that the Suquamish originally possessed.”
    In the absence of affirmative withdrawal by treaty or statute, I am of the view that
    Indian tribes enjoy as a necessary aspect of their retained sovereignty the right to try and punish all persons who commit offenses against tribal law within the reservation. Accordingly,

    I dissent.”

    Tribes protecting themselves is not against the constitution.

    • Matthew Hawkins

      Doesn’t shock me that once you give facts to conservatives that the vote it down.

      • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

        You realize that the majority opinion in that case just proves my point, right?

        You may not agree with it, but the Supreme Court has in the past struck down Congress’ attempts to give the tribes jurisdiction over non-tribal members.

        For a lot of excellent reasons.

        • Matthew Hawkins

          No you don’t understand the holding. The Supreme Court says that tribes don’t have the inherent right to try non-tribal members, but Congress can give it to them. This is not due to unfairness, but to the amount of sovereignty they have.

          It doesn’t support your equal protection argument at all.

          • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

            It does in that the way Congress is giving them the authority violates other sections of the constituiton, specifically Articles II and III:


            Congress can give tribes sovereignty, but the way the VAWA does it is unconstitutional.

          • Matthew Hawkins

            I totally disagree with your heritage article. This is not federal power. This is sovereign power of the tribe. It is more similar to state power, but it is actually different than both. It is closest to foreign jurisdiction which we originally granted them through treaty and can grant them again by statute.

            But I am glad you concede the point that it is not an equal protection argument.

          • Thresherman

            So my question is, what right of appeal does the defendant have if convicted and to which court does he appeal?

          • Matthew Hawkins

            I would say to the district court where the reservation resides.

          • Tim Heise


  • grammie

    Well yes it worries me, everything she does is cause for alarm. and she is only doing it for her gain ask her and she will change her tune to make it sound good for her .

    • SusanBeehler

      She is not doing it for her gain, she is reinstating an Act which has been around since the 90’s. This provides funding, education and services needed for woman and others who are victims of violence.

      • Drain52

        Why don’t male victims get the same consideration?

        • SusanBeehler

          What makes you think that they don’t ? If you call a crisis line the person on the other line will help you. The majority of rape and domestic violence victims seeking help are women.

  • Stuart

    The first observation concerning Heidi should be the comment she made about Barack Obama. Then you observe the sophistic tactics that the Chicago thugs use, which she subscribes to, it should be clear she adheres to divide and conquer. The chaos theory is in play here. Wake up!

    She Uses the Fem Card and the race card. It works for the bitter controlling faction.

  • SusanBeehler

    Non-tribal members should not be committing crimes in Indian Country, if they don’t want to be held accountable for the actions by the Tribal Court.

    • Tim Heise


  • whowon

    Two North Dakota women are accused of beating up a witness in a federal investigation.

    Danielle Bobtail Bear and Brandy Herrera, both of Fort Yates, are charged with three counts, including assault resulting in serious bodily injury and retaliation against a witness. Heidi?

  • Tim Heise

    It is not as if tribal members get a fair trail in non reservation courts!

  • Tim Heise

    One major issue that everyone is missing:

    If this passes (i support it but it will not pass) it will require tribes when trying non-natives for criminal acts to offer them a defense attorney and to have the jury be made up of the area at large not just the tribe.

    So a white person commits a minor crime (a non major crime b/c then the feds would have jurisdiction if it was a major crime) with a tribal member. under this law the white person gets a defense attorney and the tribal member is not required to have one. Fair?

    The Sovergnty argument goes both ways. Yes I think tribes should have enough soverngty to be able to have criminal jurisdiction over non natives simialr to how they have limited civil jurisdiction over non natives currently BUT if tribes opt in to this law if passed then argueably they lose some soverngty b/c they will be forced to adopt “white” law. As C. Thomas has said Federal Indian Law (not tribal law) is truely Schizophrenic