Jenner & Block LLP’s appellate and Supreme Court practice, led by Ian Heath Gershengorn, recently obtained a landmark victory in the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision where the Supreme Court ruled that the Creek Nation’s reservations in Oklahoma have not been disestablished by a 5-4 vote. Gershengorn remarked that Justice Neil Gorsuch, who wrote the majority opinion, was “very much a textualist,” agreeing with Gershengorn’s argument that an act of Congress is necessary to disestablish an Indian reservation.
Gershengorn was recognized as a “Leading Lawyer” by the 2020 edition of The Legal 500 United States. In 2019, he led another tribal treaty case, Washington State Department of Licensing v. Cougar Den Inc., upholding the Yakama Treaty of 1855. The firm’s Appellate and Supreme Court practice was recently ranked in the second tier by The Legal 500 United States.
Following the momentous victory in the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision, Jenner & Block announced on July 16 the lateral hires of Ambassador Keith M. Harper, Charles W. Galbraith and Robert C. Harmala. The three partners join from Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP.
Harper and Galbraith chair Jenner & Block’s Native American law practice, expanding the firm’s capabilities, and building off the momentum of the Supreme Court win. Harmala leads the firm’s new government relations practice.
Harper is a notable citizen of the Cherokee Nation and is the first Native American to be named a U.S. Ambassador. An expert in Native American law, Harper was senior staff attorney for the Native American Rights Fund from 1995 to 2006. Following that, he was Appellate Judge for the Mashantuket Pequot Tribal Court from 2001 to 2007 and a Justice of the Supreme Court of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians from 2007 to 2008. Prior to working in the federal government, Harper joined Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton and became a leader in the firm’s Native American affairs team.
From 2010 to 2014, Harper served as Commissioner on the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships. Harper was the U.S. Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland from 2014 to 2017. He is the third ambassador to join Jenner & Block this year following David Pressman and Lee Wolosky.
Galbraith is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and was previously the Associate Director for Intergovernmental Affairs at the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs under President Obama from 2011 to 2013. Galbraith was also a legislative assistant for Sen. Tim Johnson from 2007 to 2009. Before Washington, Galbraith was an Assistant United States Attorney for the District of Arizona.
Harmala is also an experienced counsel in Native American law and a longtime lobbyist for Native American tribal governments. He was previously a staff aide for Rep. Howard L. Berman and was a counsel on the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Operations. During his time at Kilpatrick Townsend, Harmala notably lobbied for Native American communities such as the Ak-Chin Indian Community and Ak-Chin Indian Community.
As chair of the new government relations practice, Harmala’s expertise furthers Jenner & Block’s services as the firm is set to expand on its lobbying capabilities. More recently, the firm registered to lobby for T-Mobile USA Inc. in June. Although, the firm only represents one other client currently, the new government relations practice is designed to connect more clients with lawmakers. The practice will work closely with their Native American law practice, solely representing tribal clients in such disputes.
The addition of these three hires can provide general counsel to tribal governments which face the same issues as corporations and other government entities. Harper explains:
We built our team from the ground up into one of the country’s foremost Native American law practices because we are keenly aware of the unique legal needs tribal governments, businesses, and individuals face and the specialized services they need. This is why we are all excited to join a firm with lawyers and professionals who complement and expand the services we offer our clients.
— Brian Beth contributed to this report.