Photo: John P.  LaVelle

John P.  LaVelle

Professor of Law

  • Regents Lectureship


  • A.B. 1987, Harvard University
  • J.D. 1990, University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall)
  • Member of the South Dakota Bar

Contact Information

 Ph.: 505-277-0951
 Fax: 505-277-1597
 Office: 3234


John P. LaVelle, an enrolled member of the Santee Sioux Nation, holds the title of Dickason Professor of Law and directs the Indian Law Program at the University of New Mexico School of Law. He received his bachelor of arts degree from Harvard University and his juris doctor degree from Boalt Hall School of Law, the University of California at Berkeley.

Professor LaVelle is a member of the executive committee for Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law, the preeminent treatise in the field of Indian law. In that capacity he helped author and edit the watershed 2005 edition of Cohen’s Handbook as well as the treatise’s 2007 supplemental update. Professor LaVelle also has served as a co-chair and of the Federal Bar Association’s annual Indian Law Conference, held each spring in Albuquerque, and as chair of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Indian Nations and Indigenous Peoples.

Professor LaVelle’s publications address Indian people’s involvement in the American political system, crosscurrents in the United States Supreme Court’s Indian law and federalism jurisprudence, and collaboration between Indian tribes and conservation organizations for restoring tribal sacred lands, including the Black Hills of South Dakota. His latest research focuses on alterations in longstanding doctrines of Indian law stemming from recent Supreme Court decisions, especially those dealing with the extent and limits of tribal and state jurisdiction in Indian country.

In the News

  • U.S. Government Violates the Constitution, Dateline New Mexico (May 18, 2016)


Administrative Law

This basic 3 hour course in Administrative Law seeks to provide exposure in some depth to the fundamental principles of Administrative Law. It will use a traditional casebook, focused on federal administrative law - where the core principles have been most fully developed. The course will also examine how those principles have been applied in the context of state administrative law, seen through the lens of New Mexico administrative law and practice.

The course will be taught in three fundamental blocks dealing with:

  1. the nature and purpose of administrative agencies, including their statutory mandates, the non-delegation doctrine, and methods of executive, legislative and judicial oversight;
  2. the essential functions of administrative agencies, including various methods of policy formulation, the exercise of adjudicatory power, the exercise of rule-making power, the enforcement of administrative decisions, and the processes of licensing; and
  3. indirect controls on administrative agencies via freedom of information laws and legal requirements making administrative processes open to public scrutiny.

Conflicts of Indian Law

This variable-credits seminar focuses on conflicting assertions of tribal, federal, and state authority affecting Indian tribes in Indian country. The objective of the seminar is to facilitate a deeper understanding of the origins, essence, and trajectory of current doctrine and theory defining the scope and limits of tribal, federal, and state power in Indian country. Special attention is paid to the emergence and dominance of the discrete but related concepts of the "implicit divestiture" of tribal sovereignty, state infringement of tribal self-government, and federal preemption of state authority in Indian country. Supreme Court cases addressing these concepts will be examined in detail, with students assigned to initiate discussions of cases on a rotating basis. Occasionally, important articles by Indian law scholars and other commentators also may be assigned.

There are no exams for this seminar. Instead, the seminar entails two writing components: (1) a midterm paper tracing and critically evaluating the development of the doctrines of state jurisdiction in Indian country, as covered in class; and (2) a mock Supreme Court opinion reversing an assigned actual or hypothetical lower court decision regarding tribal jurisdiction in Indian country, due at the end of the semester. Grades are based on the quality of students' written work and classroom participation.

To enroll in the course, students must have taken Indian Law previously, or be concurrently enrolled in Indian Law, or else have obtained the professor's permission based on significant previous Indian law-related work or study.

Indian Gaming

This course examines the various legal and political issues facing the enterprise of Indian gaming. The course materials will include the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, applicable regulations, selected gaming compacts, and the leading cases.

Indian Law

This course examines the power of the Indian tribes and the relationships among tribes, states, and the United States. Emphasis will be given to jurisdictional interfaces and conflicts among the three sovereignties.

Indian Tax

Course Description

This course deals with problems of tribal, state, and federal taxation within Indian country. The first half of the semester involves general reading of the leading cases. The second half of the semester involves a set of transactional problems and the tax consequences that flow from those problems.

Jurisdiction in Indian Country

This course explores core doctrinal developments in the field of federal Indian law, paying close attention to Supreme Court decisions bearing on the scope of tribal and state governing authority in Indian country. We will study the Court's cases chronologically, endeavoring to follow the historic development of two overarching doctrinal themes: (1) federal preclusion of state authority in Indian country (including the modern preemption and "infringement" theories); and (2) federal recognition of the extent and limits of inherent tribal sovereignty (including the "implicit divestiture" theory). We first will examine closely the full majority opinions and selected and edited concurring and dissenting opinions from the early Indian law cases of the John Marshall Court, with a view toward discerning how these opinions either foreshadow or clash with later doctrinal developments. We then will critically examine the subsequent cases that elaborate the state-power and tribal-power doctrines indicated above. To aid us in our study, we occasionally may supplement our reading of the Supreme Court's Indian law cases with articles by Indian law scholars and other commentators.

Natural Resources: Indian Country

Course Description

This course addresses issues of ownership, regulation, and jurisdiction that arise in the unique context of the management of natural resources in Indian country. Specific topics include ownership of land and water resources on Indian reservations; land use and environmental protection in Indian country; taxation of natural resources in the reservation setting; federally reserved Indian water rights; and off-reservation Indian hunting, fishing, and gathering rights. To enroll in this course, students must have taken the basic introductory Indian Law course or have obtained special permission from the instructor.


This class introduces you to the work and professional roles of lawyers. It investigates the meaning of professionalism; examines the role of personal and professional values in becoming and being a lawyer; and discusses various aspects of legal practice, including ways to improve your likelihood of success and happiness in your career.

As background, empirical studies show that lawyers who pick their fields carefully based upon their own strengths and needs are happier and do better in the profession overall. Other studies show that multitasking and excessive stress interfere with clear thinking. Indeed, calm focused people are better at what they do, whatever profession they enter. They are also more efficient and work better with others. Calm focused people are also happier and have a better sense of their own priorities and values. This class is designed to:

  • help you learn about the legal system and the professional role of attorneys;
  • help you create space in your life for activities that keep you balanced as a human being;
  • help you control stress and thus enhance your academic and professional success;
  • help you improve your interpersonal skills;
  • allow you to develop a support system at the law school by getting to know some of your peers in an unconventional setting; and
  • allow you to develop a relationship with a faculty member that is supportive both inside and outside the classroom.

Being a lawyer can be all you want it to be and can give you the power to bring about whatever change you want to see. This class will help prepare you to do just that.

Sexual Orientation & Law

Course Description

This variable-credits seminar provides a survey of the legal landscape in the United States relating to the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people. The seminar uses the newly published third edition of the groundbreaking casebook by Professors William Rubenstein, Carlos A. Ball, and Jane S. Schacter, Cases and Materials on Sexual Orientation and the Law, which interweaves the relevant legal issues with broader historical, sociological, and literary perspectives. Specific topics include sexuality and liberty; sexual identity and equality; workplace discrimination against LGBT people; the coupling and parenting rights of same-sex partners; and the differences and similarities between sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. The seminar will be co-taught by Professor John LaVelle and Lynn E. Mostoller, an associate with the law firm of Keleher & McLeod. The seminar will feature occasional participation by guest attorneys and activists who will discuss the development of sexual orientation policy and the practice of sexual orientation law in New Mexico. Each student is required to complete, in stages, a final paper on a sexual orientation law topic of that student’s choice, with additional requirements for students who elect to use this seminar to fulfill the law school’s writing requirement.


Torts is an introduction to the system governing civil liability for wrongs. Unlike contract law, in which persons establish standards governing their relations in private agreements, tort law imposes rights and duties between persons even when the parties have not done so by contract. Unlike criminal law which the government (rather than the victim) imposes societal standards through the medium litigation seeking punishment for violation of criminal law, tort litigation is controlled by the injured person who seeks not punishment, but personal compensation via money damages from the person whose violation of the laws of torts cause harm to the victim. Course coverage focuses on the tort of Negligence. As time permits, other torts are analyzed.


Books & Book Chapters

Beating a Path of Retreat from Treaty Rights and Tribal Sovereignty: The Story of Montana v. United States, Indian Law Stories (Carole Goldberg et al. eds. 2011)
Available at: UNM-DR

Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law (Nell Jessup Newton et al. eds. LexisNexis 2005) (executive editor).
Available at: UNM-DR


Implicit Divestiture Reconsidered: Outtakes from the Cohen Handbook's Cutting-Room Floor, 38 CONN. L. REV. 731 (2006).
Available at: UNM-DR

Toward a Great Sioux Nation Judicial Support Center and Supreme Court: An Interim Planning and Recommendation Report for the Wakpa Sica Historical Society's Reconciliation Place Project, 17 WICAZO SA REV. 183 (Spring 2002) (co-authored with Frank Pommersheim).
Available at: UNM-DR

Rescuing Paha Sapa: Achieving Environmental Justice by Restoring the Great Grasslands and Returning the Sacred Black Hills to the Great Sioux Nation, 5 GREAT PLAINS NAT. RESOURCES J. 40 (2001).
Available at: UNM-DR

Sanctioning a Tyranny: The Diminishment of Ex parte Young, Expansion of Hans Immunity, and Denial of Indian Rights in Coeur d'Alene Tribe, 31 ARIZ. ST. L.J. 787 (1999).
Available at: UNM-DR


Petitioner’s Brief—Reargument of Oliphant v. Suquamish Indian Tribe, 13 KAN. J.L. & PUB. POL'Y 69 (2003).
Available at: UNM-DR

Case at a Glance: Are County Officials Liable for Forcibly Executing a Search Warrant Against a Sovereign Indian Tribe?, 6 PREVIEW OF U.S. SUP. CT. CASES 368 (2003).
Available at: UNM-DR

Strengthening Tribal Sovereignty Through Indian Participation in American Politics: A Reply to Professor Porter, 10 KAN. J.L. & PUB. POL'Y 533 (2001).
Available at: UNM-DR

The General Allotment Act "Eligibility" Hoax: Distortions of Law, Policy, and History in Derogation of Indian Tribes, 14 WICAZO SA REV. 251 (Spring 1999).
Available at: UNM-DR

Review Essay: "Indians Are Us?: Culture and Genocide in Native North America" by ME Monroe, 20 AM. INDIAN Q. 109 (Winter 1996).
Available at: UNM-DR

Popular Press

High Court Denies Rights of Natives, ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL (June 26, 2016).
Available at: UNM-DR

'Uncounseled' Conviction a Threat to Indians, ALBUQUERQUE JOURNAL (February 10, 2016)
Available at: UNM-DR


The Rise of the "New Federalism" from the Destruction of Indian Rights: A Meditation. Proceedings of the 26th Annual Indian Law Conference of the Federal Bar Association: The New Tribalism Meets the New Federalism (2001).

Panel Discussions from "Indian Nations on the Eve of the 21st Century." 43 S.D. L. REV. 475 (1998).
Available at: UNM-DR


Brief for the Professor Barbara L. Creel and the Tribal Defender Network as Amicus Curiae, United States v. Bryant, (2015) (U.S. SUP. CT. NO. 15,420)
Available at: UNM-DR

Petition for a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Jensen v. EXC, Inc., (2015) (U.S. SUP. CT. No. 15,64)
Available at: UNM-DR


 Regents Lectureship

 Dean's Award for Distinguished Law School Service

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