Kirsten Carlson

Kirsten Carlson

Associate Professor of Law and Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science


Room 3243
(313) 577-1201

Kirsten Carlson

  • Biography

    Kirsten Matoy Carlson is a leading authority on federal Indian law and legislation. Her research focuses on legal advocacy and law reform, with particular attention on the various strategies used by Indian nations and indigenous groups to reform federal law and policy effectively. Carlson integrates traditional legal analysis with social science methodologies for studying legal and political advocacy. Her recent article, Lobbying Against the Odds, was selected for presentation at the Yale/Stanford/Harvard Junior Faculty Forum at Harvard Law School. Her articles have appeared in the Michigan Law Review, Minnesota Law Review, University of Colorado Law Review, Indiana Law Journal, Harvard Journal on Legislation, Law and Society Review, American Indian Law Review and Michigan State Law Review.

    For the 2019-20 academic year, she holds a career development chair, which honors outstanding research faculty at Wayne State University. From May 2014 through July 2019, she served as the principle investigator on a National Science Foundation Law and Social Science Program grant. During 2017-18, she was one of two inaugural Levin Center Research Scholars. In 2016-17, she received the Outstanding Junior Faculty Award from the Wayne State Academy of Scholars. Prior to joining the Law School in 2011, Carlson received a National Science Foundation dissertation research grant to study the constitutional entrenchment of Aboriginal and treaty rights in Canada and a Fulbright scholarship to research attitudes toward the Waitangi Tribunal and the treaty claims settlement process in New Zealand. She has also served as a visiting research scholar at the University of Ottawa and a visiting associate professor at the University of Minnesota Law School.

    Carlson teaches federal Indian law, legislation, legal change and civil procedure. She received the Donald H. Gordon Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2014 and was selected by students as the Professor of the Year, First Year, in 2017.

    Carlson brings a range of professional and academic experience to her teaching and research. She serves on the State Bar of Michigan Standing Committee on American Indian Law and is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Prior to joining Wayne Law, she advocated nationally and internationally to protect the rights of Indian nations as a staff attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center. She led the center's advocacy efforts to restore criminal jurisdiction to Indian nations to end violence against women in Indian Country. She also clerked for the Hon. Diana E. Murphy of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

    Carlson earned her law degree cum laude and a doctorate in political science from the University of Michigan, a master of arts degree with distinction in Maaori studies from the University of Wellington, New Zealand, and a bachelor’s in international studies from The Johns Hopkins University.

  • Degrees and Certifications

    Ph.D., University of Michigan
    J.D., University of Michigan Law School
    M.A., Victoria University in New Zealand
    B.A., The Johns Hopkins University

  • Courses Taught

    American Indian Law
    Civil Procedure

  • Homepage URL
  • Selected Publications

    Congress, Tribal Recognition, and Legislative-Administrative Multiplicity, 91 Indiana Law Journal 955 (2016)

    Congress and Indians, 86 University of Colorado Law Review 77 (2015).

    Political Failure, Judicial Opportunity: The Supreme Court of Canada and Aboriginal and Treaty Rights, 44 American Review of Canadian Studies 334 (2014) (peer-reviewed).

    Jurisdiction and Human Rights Accountability in Indian Country, Michigan State Law Review 355 (2013).

    Priceless Property, 29 Georgia State University Law Review 685 (2013).

    "Natural Allies: Conservationists, Indian Tribes, and Protecting Native North America," in Sarah Krakoff and Ezra Rosser, Eds., Tribes, Land, and the Environment (2012) (with Robert T. Coulter).

    Does Constitutional Change Matter? Canada's Recognition of Aboriginal Title, 22 Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law 449 (2005) (distributed to more than 1,000 practitioners and scholars at the 2010 Federal Bar Association Indian Law Conference).

    Note, Towards Tribal Sovereignty and Judicial Efficiency: Ordering the Defenses of Tribal Sovereign Immunity and Exhaustion of Tribal Remedies, 101 Michigan Law Review 569 (2002) (second place, National Native American Law Students Association Annual Writing Competition).

  • Social Science Research Network
    View SSRN Profile


    • Update: Judge Murphy's Indian Law Legacy
      August 19, 2019
      This Article highlights the contributions that Judge Diana Murphy made to federal Indian law jurisprudence and its real world impact. In addition to discussing her opinions, it describes the substantial contribution she made to Indian country as the Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.<br/><i>New PDF Uploaded</i>
    • New: Judge Murphy's Indian Law Legacy
      August 17, 2019
      This Article highlights the contributions that Judge Diana Murphy made to federal Indian law jurisprudence and its real world impact. In addition to discussing her opinions, it describes the substantial contribution she made to Indian country as the Chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
    • New: Lobbying as a Strategy for Tribal Resilience
      August 14, 2019
      Indian tribes have endured as separate governments despite the taking of their land, the forced relocation of their people, and the abrogation of their treaty rights. Many threats to tribal existence have stemmed from federal policies aimed at assimilating Indians into mainstream American society. In crafting these policies, members of Congress often relied on the input of non-Indians, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As a result, American Indians were largely left out of the federal policy-making process. This started to change in the 1970s when Congress adopted the Tribal Self-Determination Policy, which encouraged tribal participation in the creation of federal Indian policy. Tribes have responded to this opening of the political process by increasingly lobbying Congress. This Article explores how tribes have used legislative strategies to influence federal Indian policy. It demonstrates how tribes have used lobbying as a way to build resilience over time by influencing the ...
    • REVISION: Lobbying Against the Odds
      August 12, 2019
      Conventional narratives maintain that groups that lack political power litigate because they cannot attain their goals politically. Yet lobbying by American Indians has increased over 600 percent since the late 1970s. And they are not alone. Other politically marginalized groups have also intensified their lobbying efforts over the past five decades. This raises an important question that scholars have yet to adequately answer: Why do some groups use legislative strategies to achieve their goals? This Article challenges the prevailing wisdom and demonstrates that groups sometimes lobby even when the odds are stacked against them. It considers the existing sociolegal framework for understanding why groups litigate, and suggests modifications based on insights from interest group studies, to provide a more complete explanation of when and why groups engage in various advocacy strategies. This modified sociolegal approach produces significant insights into how legal and political ...
  • Accomplishments
    • Kirsten Carlson’slatest research “Making Strategic Choices: How and Why Indian Groups Advocated for Federal Recognition from 1977 to 2012” reveals that a dynamic interplay of goals, motivations, and constraints influence groups to different strategies over time. Read more
    • Kirsten Matoy Carlson was a speaker at the Politics of Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity Consortium at the University of New Mexico. She discussed “Opposition as Influence: American Indian Advocacy Against Federal Legislation.”
    • Kirsten Matoy Carlson has been invited to participate in the Yale/Stanford/Harvard Junior Faculty Forum at Harvard Law School on June 13-14, 2018. Carlson will present her paper, “Lobbying Against the Odds,” which is forthcoming in the Harvard Journal on Legislation. Read more here
    • Kirsten Matoy Carlson has been named an inaugural Levin Center Research Scholar. The research award will be presented on an annual basis to a member of the Wayne Law faculty in an effort to support scholarship central to the mission of the Levin Center at Wayne Law. Read more
    • Kirsten Matoy Carlson spoke at a memorial session in honor of Judge Diana E. Murphy of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 18.
    • Kirsten Matoy Carlson’spaper “Lobbying as a Strategy for Tribal Resilience” was accepted for publication in the Brigham Young University Law Review.
    • Kirsten Matoy Carlson was a recipient of a 2019-20 Career Development Chair Award from Wayne State University. The university’s award program supports outstanding tenured faculty members in the early stages of their careers.
    • Kirsten Matoy Carlson wrote “Judge Murphy’s Indian Law Legacy” for the Minnesota Law Review.

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