William Mitchell prof wins MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant

Sarah Deer, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, is one of this year’s MacArthur Foundation Fellows, a program often called “genius grants.”

Deer, 41, is known for her work in Native American law and efforts to protect women from sexual and domestic abuse.

She’s one of 21 MacArthur Fellows this year from around the country. They range in age from 32 to 71. Deer and the others will each receive a stipend of $625,000 over five years.

Deer told the New York Times that she’ll continue to work on policies to help American Indian women who have been failed by tribal courts and federal laws.

The MacArthur Foundation says Deer is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and received a law degree from the University of Kansas. She was a victim advocacy legal specialist and staff attorney at the Tribal Law and Policy Institute prior to joining the faculty of William Mitchell College of Law in 2009, where she is currently a professor and co-director of the Indian Law Clinic.

They say her work was “instrumental in the passage of two landmark pieces of legislation”: 

  • The Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010 increases the sentencing power of tribal courts and requires federal district attorneys to provide detailed information to tribal authorities about cases under their jurisdiction that will not be prosecuted.
  • The 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act restores some of the authority that was stripped from tribal governments by Oliphant v. Suquamish (1978), giving tribal courts the power to prosecute non–Native Americans who assault Native spouses or dating partners or violate a protection order on tribal lands.

Her current focus is on “building tribal infrastructure and reinvigorating the rich history of Native Americans’ pre-colonial criminal justice systems as a source for contemporary laws and policies,” according to the MacArthur bio.

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