Elizabeth A. Reese

Stanford Law’s First Native American Faculty Member

Elizabeth A. Reese 1
Elizabeth A. Reese, Assistant Professor of Law at Stanford Law School

In a recent Stanford Law Review article, “The Other American Law,” Elizabeth Reese wrote about the exclusion of tribal governments and their laws from the country’s mainstream conception of American law, and the harmful othering and invisibility of Native Americans and their governments that this omission perpetuates. Highlighting the fact that tribal governments are integrated into the governing structure of the U.S., control large amounts of lands and people, and struggle with many of the same problems that other American sovereigns face, Reese proposes that omitting tribal law from American legal scholarship is not only a troubling inconsistency but also a missed opportunity to learn from these unique sovereigns. Tribal law, according to Reese, belongs in the mainstream study of American law and legal systems.

Elizabeth A. Reese, who is also known as Yunpoví, or Willow Flower in the Tewa language, joined Stanford Law School in June this year as an assistant professor of law—the first Native American to become a member of the tenure-line faculty. Reese is tribally enrolled at Nambé Pueblo, one of the six Tewa-speaking pueblos of the northern Rio Grande region, where she is an active member of the community.

“Liz brings a brilliant academic and legal practice background, exceptional scholarship, and a distinctive perspective that will enrich our students’ education,” says Jenny Martinez, dean and Richard E. Lang Professor of Law. “We are excited to add Liz’s important research and her real-world connections to our growing program in tribal law and federal Indian law, truly making Stanford a law school leader in this area.”

“I couldn’t be more honored to join the faculty at Stanford Law and the incredible Native American community at Stanford University,” says Reese. “Since the beginning, the laws of this country have had such an outsized impact on the lives of Native people. Having a Native voice among the scholars responsible for examining that law and teaching aspiring lawyers and lawmakers who will have a tremendous impact in this country is so important. And it is an incredible feeling knowing that voice will be mine.”

With a focus on American Indian tribal law and U.S. constitutional law, her scholarship examines the way government structures, citizen identity, and the history that is taught in schools can impact the rights and powers of oppressed racial minorities within American law. Reese’s areas of expertise include federal Indian law and tribal law, U.S. constitutional law, race and the law, and voting rights law. Her work has been published in the University of Chicago Law Review, Cardozo Law Review, and the Houston Law Review. 

Reese joins noted legal historian Gregory Ablavsky in leading the school’s growing program in this area, with students participating in policy labs in conjunction with the Yurok Tribe in Northern California as well as academic courses. “Since I’ve arrived at SLS, the student interest for learning about and working with indigenous communities has been strong and sustained,” says Ablavsky, who joined the faculty in 2015. “I’m so excited to be working with Liz. Her experience and expertise will be invaluable as we continue to explore ways that SLS can partner with Native communities and advocacy organizations to help serve Indian country.” 

“I hope to work with students and faculty across the university on the broader questions of race, justice, representation, sovereignty, structure, and power in the United States,” says Reese. “I also look forward to working with Greg to build something really exceptional at Stanford Law School—both for Native law students and scholarship on American Indian law. Having two American Indian law scholars on the faculty at a top law school like Stanford is really exciting for the field.

Reese’s appointment is part of a Stanford University faculty cluster hire to add eminent scholars and researchers who are leaders in the study of the impact of race in America, an initiative under Stanford’s IDEAL initiative. Established in 2018, IDEAL is a larger cross-campus effort to create a more inclusive, accessible, diverse, and equitable university for all Stanford community members.

Prior to joining SLS, Reese served as a Harry A. Bigelow Teaching Fellow and Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago. Previously, Reese worked at the National Congress of American Indians, where she supported tribal governments across the country as they implemented expanded criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians under the 2013 Violence Against Women Act. Her comprehensive five-year report on the tribal prosecutions thus far—which documented not only outcomes and unforeseen complications but also the surge of tribal law innovation brought on by expanded jurisdiction—has been widely cited everywhere from Congress to Supreme Court briefs. Reese began her legal career as a civil rights litigator at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she led a desegregation case in one of the largest school districts in Florida and worked on the challenge to Alabama’s Voter ID law.

Reese served as a law clerk to Judge Diane Wood on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and Judge Amul Thapar on the Eastern District of Kentucky Court (now the Sixth Circuit). Reese received her undergraduate degree from Yale University, her law degree from Harvard Law School, and received her master’s degree in political thought and intellectual history from Cambridge University SL