MSU Law Professor Named AALS Litigation Section Practitioner of the Year

Professor Fort
MSU Law Professor and Clinic Director Kathryn Fort is being honored for her pivotal role in the landmark case, Brackeen v. Haaland with the Practitioner Award from the Association of American Law Schools (AALS). The AALS Litigation Section selected Professor Fort for her significant work and accomplishments on behalf of Native American tribes.

Professor Fort was nominated by MSU Law Professor Nicole Godfrey for this distinguished recognition. In her nomination submission, Professor Godfrey pointed to Professor Fort’s years of dedication in the fight to ensure the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) remained viable to protect Native children. Since 2009, when Professor Fort “filed a brief in the Michigan Supreme Court on behalf of the American Indian Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan,” she has been defending the ICWA against challenges of its constitutionality in state and federal courts across the country.

Professor Godfrey
As Director of the Indian Law Clinic at MSU Law, in addition to serving as the Director of all the Clinics at the law school, Professor Fort launched the “Indian Child Welfare Act Appellate Project in 2015 to provide pro bono legal services to tribes seeking representation in ICWA cases. Through this project, Professor Fort and the clinic’s student attorneys have represented tribes in some capacity in all major ICWA appellate cases since Baby Girl [Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 570 U.S. 637 (2013), a prior Supreme Court decision that affected the rights of fathers under the Indian Child Welfare Act],” shared Professor Godfrey in her nomination submission.

Considered a national expert on ICWA, Professor Fort and the Indian Law Clinic, along with their co-counsel Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP, successfully sought to intervene in the Brackeen case after it was filed in October 2017 to ensure Native voices were heard when the court decided the case. For five years, Professor Fort, with the active support of MSU Law students, represented Native American tribes alongside additional co-counsel Jenner Block. The extensive work performed by Professor Fort and the Clinic’s students culminated in the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the ICWA in 2023. This precedent-setting case is having a powerful impact on post-Brackeen cases challenging ICWA. Professor Fort and the Indian Law Clinic’s students remain at the forefront supporting Native tribes.

In the December 18 news release announcing the winners of the 2024 section awards, the AALS President hailed the winners “for exceptional achievement in legal scholarship, teaching, mentorship, and service.” The Awards Ceremony will be held during the 2024 AALS Annual Meeting on January 4.

Founded in 1900, the AALS “is a nonprofit association of 176 member and 18 fee-paid law schools. The mission of AALS is to uphold and advance excellence in legal education,” according to the organization’s website. The AALS Section on Litigation focuses “on matters of interest in the teaching and improvement of Litigation.”