Kevin K. Washburn

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Kevin K. Washburn
Kevin Washburn 2010
12th Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs
In office
October 9, 2012 – January 1, 2016
President Barack Obama
Preceded by Donald Laverdure (Acting)
Succeeded by Lawrence S. Roberts (Acting)
Personal details
Born Kevin K. Washburn
August 9, 1967
Nationality American, Chickasaw
Alma mater University of Oklahoma (B.A.)
Yale Law School (J.D.)
Profession academic, attorney
Website [4]

Kevin K. Washburn (born 1967) is an American law professor and the former dean of the University of New Mexico School of Law.[1] He served in the administration of President Barack Obama as Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior from 2012 to 2016.[2][3] Washburn has also been a federal prosecutor, a trial attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice, and the General Counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission. Washburn is a member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, a federally-recognized Indian tribe.

Early life and education[edit]

Washburn was raised in Oklahoma City and small towns in Oklahoma, including Purcell, Heavener and Ada, and graduated from Moore High School, in Moore, Oklahoma, a suburb of Oklahoma City. Washburn discussed his childhood and his mother in a speech given when he received the Spirit of Excellence Award from the American Bar Association. He was raised along with two siblings by his mother, Shirley Stark nee Wallace, who was single for much of his childhood. She eventually retired as a community health representative for the Chickasaw Nation and currently serves on the tribe's Council of Elders.[4] Washburn went to college at the University of Oklahoma, where he majored in economics and minored in philosophy. After graduating with honors, Washburn began law school at Washington University in St. Louis where he was the inaugural Gustavus A. Buder Scholar. After his first year of law school, Washburn transferred to the Yale Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Journal on Regulation and received his law degree in 1993.

Public Service Career[edit]

Washburn began his legal career by clerking for Judge William C. Canby, Jr., of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, a noted scholar in the field of American Indian Law, former law professor, and author of the American Indian Law in a Nutshell.

Following his clerkship, Washburn was hired through the Attorney General's Honors Program as a trial attorney at the United States Department of Justice Environment and Natural Resources Division. During his tenure there, Washburn successfully argued Montana v. EPA, in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the decision of the Environmental Protection Agency to recognize the Salish and Kootenai Tribes as a state for purposes of setting water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.[5] He also helped the Las Vegas Paiute Indian Tribe obtain water rights for a major development on the Snow Mountain Reservation, located northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada, and litigated water rights cases on behalf of the United States in Arizona and Montana.

Washburn later served as an Assistant United States Attorney in New Mexico from 1997-2000,.[6] Working in the Violent Crimes Section, he handled bank robberies, homicides, sexual assault and various other offenses, many of them arising in Indian country. His highest profile case was the successful prosecution of an offender who made threats against the United States District Court Judge John E. Conway and United States Magistrate Judge Robert DeGiacomo.

Washburn served as the third General Counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission from 2000 to 2002. He served during the time of a boom in the Indian gaming industry in California as that gaming became clearly legal due to the signing of tribal-state gaming compacts, a very active time at the Commission. As General Counsel, Washburn made several reforms. First, on hearing complaints from the industry suggesting that agency staff were abusing power in the management contact review process by demanding changes to contracts that were not required by law, Washburn changed the review process by requiring staff to identify statutory or regulatory authority for any objection that agency staff made to a proposed management contract under review. Second, Washburn improved the Commission's enforcement efforts by working to make the Commission's document charging a regulatory violation, called a "notice of violation," more comprehensible to the public. Washburn required that such notices be written to explain the purpose for the rule which the target was accused of violating. The use of such "speaking indictments" clarified the reasons that the NIGC was taking action and therefore improved public understanding of the NIGC enforcement priorities. Washburn also aggressively defended the independence of the Commission as an independent regulatory agency, strongly resisting efforts by officials of the Department of the Interior to embroil the NIGC in the longstanding Cobell class action litigation that ultimately was settled as Cobell v. Salazar.[7]

Academic career[edit]

Washburn began his academic career as a professor in 2002 at the University of Minnesota Law School, where he earned tenure in 2006. He spent the academic year of 2007-08 as the Oneida Nation Distinguished Visiting Professor of Indian Law at Harvard Law School. In 2008, he joined the law faculty at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, where he was the Rosenstiel Distinguished Professor of Law. Washburn has also taught short courses at the University of Montana School of Law and the University of Nebraska College of Law.

Much of Washburn's scholarship focuses on the intersection of Federal Indian law and criminal law.[8] In one of his articles, he focuses on the federal criminal justice system that applies on Indian reservations and the federal constitutional values of criminal procedure.[9] In another piece, Washburn writes about the federalized criminal justice system and federal Indian policy involving Native American self-determination.[10] His groundbreaking work in this field was discussed at length in a piece in the High Country News.[11] In July 2008, Senator Byron Dorgan introduced S. 3320: Tribal Law and Order Act of 2008 in an attempt to fix some of the problems identified in Washburn's scholarship.[12] The Tribal Law and Order Act was signed into law in 2010.

Washburn is also a scholar of the gaming industry and particularly Indian gaming. Washburn's scholarship includes articles addressing the regulatory process related to Indian gaming and the cultural clashes among federal agencies with regulatory roles in Indian gaming. Washburn is the author of a leading law school casebook on the subject of the regulation of gaming and gambling. His work has been cited by the U.S Courts of the Appeals for the Seventh Circuit[13] and the Ninth Circuit,[14] among other courts.

In 2009, Washburn was named dean of the University of New Mexico School of Law. He served as dean for more than three years. During this time, the School of Law celebrated the 60th anniversary of its first graduating class with a large celebration attended by more than 800 people and the release of a book entitled "60 for 60: Shaping Law in New Mexico Since 1950" which documented the law school community's influence in New Mexico.[15] The 60 for 60 event was reflective of Dean Washburn's efforts to connect the law school with the broader community. Washburn's tenure was also marked by the successful recruitment of several high value faculty members to the law school, in part, by raising all faculty salaries during a time of shrinking fiscal resources. These recruits included George Bach, Yael Cannon, Max Minzner, Aliza Organick, Dawinder "Dave" Sidhu, Kevin Tu and Alex Ritchie. Dean Washburn hired Ritchie to establish the law school's oil & gas program, to provide more opportunity for communities and students from the San Juan and Permian Basin regions to engage better with the school. During Washburn's tenure, U.S. Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan[16] and Sonya Sotomayor[17] visited the School of Law, and Ninth Circuit Judge Mary Murguia gave the inaugural Senator Dennis Chavez Memorial Lecture.[18] The Chavez Lecture was established, during Washburn's deanship, through a gift from the Senator's family.[19] Washburn also helped to bring numerous other significant gifts to the law school to support students and faculty, such as the Daniels Diploma, the Salazar Prize[20] and the Bailey Scholarship in Law.[21] Under Washburn's leadership, annual giving to the School of Law also increased dramatically. Dean Washburn also helped strengthen the relationship with the New Mexico courts, especially the Court of Appeals, which relocated to a new building next door to the School of Law during Washburn's deanship. The New Mexico Court of Appeals is the only appellate court in the United States that is located full-time on a law school campus.[22] Soon after it was opened, Dean Washburn hosted a reception in the lobby Justice Elena Kagan, who was Washburn's second UNM School of Law commencment speaker. Washburn also oversaw substantial renovations at the School of Law, including courtrooms, classrooms, the clinic, and the Law Library.[23]

Service in the Obama Administration[edit]

In 2012, Washburn was nominated by President Obama to be the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the U.S. Department of the Interior. He was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate on September 21, 2012, and was sworn into office by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on October 9, 2012. He served in that position until January 1, 2016, when he returned to the University of New Mexico as a faculty member.[24] He was the twelfth Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Indian Affairs to be confirmed since the position was established by Congress in the late 1970s. He was preceded by Larry Echo Hawk and succeeded by Lawrence S. Roberts (acting). In addition to carrying out the Department’s trust responsibilities regarding the management of tribal and individual Indian trust lands and assets, the Assistant Secretary is responsible for promoting the self-determination and economic self-sufficiency of the nation’s 567 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and their approximately two million enrolled members.[25] As Assistant Secretary, Washburn helped organize the White House Tribal Nations Conferences for 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, in which President Obama invited leaders from each Indian tribe to Washington, D.C., to visit with the President directly and with his cabinet. Washburn also oversaw the establishment of the White House Council of Native American Affairs by President Obama.

Washburn's leadership at the Department of the Interior was marked by significant policy accomplishments, such as initiatives designed to pre-empt state taxation of business activity in Indian country to enhance tribal economic development,[26] a reversal of the Department's rule against land in trust for Alaska tribes,[27] more than half a million acres of new lands taken into trust for tribes,[28] and more than 1.5 million acres of fractionated interests in existing trust lands restored to tribes.

Washburn also worked to reform and improve numerous BIA regulatory regimes, related to rights-of-way,[29] Indian child welfare,[30] the federal acknowledgment process for Indian tribes,[31] and Secretarial elections.[32]

Early in Washburn's tenure, Congress imposed a sequestration on the federal government, cutting five percent from each agency's budget. Nevertheless, under Washburn's leadership, Washburn worked with Congressional appropriators and the Office of Management and Budget to increase funding for the Indian Affairs programs at the U.S. Department of the Interior, resulting in an increase in appropriations from $2.3 billion in FY 2013 to $2.8 billion in FY FY 2016, a half-billion increase in less than four years, increasing the federal government's success in meeting its trust responsibilities to Indian nations. Morevoer, the last budget on which he worked before leaving government services sought $2.9 billion in funding for these programs.[33]

Washburn also helped the United States achieve settlement with Indian tribes in cases against the United States for breach of contracts and breach of trust, including a $940 million settlement in the Ramah Navajo Chapter class action and a $554 million settlement with the Navajo Nation.[34]

Washburn's aggressive initiatives to advance Indian tribal nations sparked a backlash among conservatives in Congress, producing an often contentious relationship with some members, particularly in the House.[35] Washburn criticized House members for placing the legitimacy of some tribes in doubt[36] and opposing the Obama administration's land-into-trust initiatives.[37] Washburn also sometimes clashed with Senators, including Senator John McCain.[38] During his tenure in office, Washburn was responsible, working with the Office of Federal Acknowledgement, for extending federal recognition to the Pamunkey Tribe of Virginia, the tribe of Pocahantas.[39]

Washburn has attributed the successes on initiatives for Indian tribes during President Obama's second term to having an extraordinarily strong and hard-working political team in place in the Office of the Assistant Secretary, pursuing President Obama's Indian Country agenda, including the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Larry Roberts, Deputy Assistant Secretary Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, Chiefs of Staff Sarah Walters and Sarah Harris, Rodina Cave, Cheryl Andrews Maltais, Kallie Hanley, Don Yu, Jonodev Chaudhuri, Kathryn Isom Clause and Sequoyah Simermeyer. During Washburn's tenure, Morgan Rodman was named the first executive director of the White House Council on Native American Affairs, which was chaired by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, staffed by other members of the Cabinet, and housed within the Office of the Assistant Secretary.

Washburn left the Department of the Interior effective Januaury 1, 2016, and returned to a faculty position at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Washburn's tenure as Assistant Secretary was more than three years and three months, making him the longest serving official in that position since Ada Deer left the position in 1997, and one of the longest in the history of the position. Washburn's principal deputy, Larry Roberts, succeeded Washburn in the position, acting as Assistant Secretary through the end of the Obama Administration.

Gaming Law[edit]

Washburn is one of the country's leading experts on Gaming and Gambling Law. He served as the General Counsel of the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) from January 2000 to July 2002.[40] In addition, he is the author of a law school casebook on Gaming Law and Regulation published by Aspen Publishers in 2011, and several law review articles. He frequently testifies before Congress and the courts on issues involving Indian gaming. While visiting at Harvard Law School during the 2007-08 academic year, Professor Washburn taught the first course on Gaming/Gambling Law in that school’s history.[41] In addition to Harvard, Professor Washburn has taught Gaming/Gambling Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, Harvard Law School, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, and the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Federal Indian Law[edit]

Washburn is also an expert in Federal Indian Law. He has been an author of one of the principal casebooks on Federal Indian Law, entitled American Indian Law: Native Nations and the Federal System. He is also an author/editor of Indian Law Stories, a book that provides the back stories of several key American Indian law cases. In addition, he is an author and member of the Executive Board of Editors of Felix Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law, the leading treatise in the field of Federal Indian Law. In 2017, the Harvard Law Review published online Washburn's reflections on the future of federal Indian law and policy.


Washburn is married to Libby Rodke Washburn, an attorney who served as a Deputy Commissioner of the Bureau of Recalamation and then as the chief of staff to the Deputy Secretary Michael L. Connor of the U.S. Department of the Interior from 2014-2016. The couple have three children.


Elected member of the American Law Institute since 2007; Board of Trustees of the Law School Admission Council from 2006-2009, 2012, and 2016 to the present; Author and Executive Editor of Felix Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law since 2005; Member of the Criminal Law and Procedure Drafting Committee for the National Conference of Bar Examiners 2006-12 and 2016-2018; Yale Law School Fund Board of Directors 1998-2004; Board of Directors of the Conservation Lands Foundation 2017 - 2020. Enrolled member of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma, a federally recognized Indian nation.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Press Release: Salazar Applauds Senate Confirmation of Kevin Washburn as Interior's Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs". United States Department of the Interior. September 22, 2012. Retrieved January 18, 2015. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ See Montana v. EPA, 137 F.3d 1135 (9th Cir. 1998).
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ See [1].
  9. ^ See Indians, Crime and the Law, 104 Mich. L. Rev. 709 (2006), available at
  10. ^ See Federal Criminal Law and Tribal Self-Determination, 84 No. Carolina L. Rev. 779 (2006), available at
  11. ^ See
  12. ^
  13. ^ See, e.g., The Mechanics of the Indian Gaming Management Contract Approval Process, 9 GAMING LAW REVIEW 333 (2004), cited in Wells Fargo Bank v. Lake of the Torches Economic Development Corp., 658 F.3d 684, 701 n.16 (7th Cir. 2015)
  14. ^ See, e.g., Recurring Problems in Indian Gaming, 1 WYOMING LAW REVIEW 427 (2001), cited in In re: Gaming Related Cases, 331 F.3d 1094 (9th Cir. 2003) (majority opinion by Circuit Judge W. Fletcher);
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ "Biographical Statement of Kevin K. Washburn Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs U.S. Department of the Interior and Brief Summary of the Office of the Assistant Secretary – Indian Affairs". United States Department of the Interior – Indian Affairs. Retrieved January 18, 2015. 
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^ See 2016 White House Tribal Nations Conference Progress Report: A Renewed Era of Federal-Tribal Relations,
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ Press Release, President Obama’s FY 2017 Budget Request for Indian Affairs Increases Funding That Supports Strong, Resilient Tribal Nations For Today and Future Generations Feb. 9, 2016
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^
  38. ^ See Austin R. Vance, A Pretty Smart Answer: Justifying the Secretary of the Interior's "Seminole Fix" for the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, 40 Am. Ind. L. Rev. 325 (2016)
  39. ^
  40. ^ See [2].
  41. ^ See].<
  42. ^ See generally, [3].

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