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Bethany Berger, J.D. - University of Connecticut. Hartford, CT, US

Bethany Berger, J.D. Bethany Berger, J.D.

Professor of Law | University of Connecticut


Professor of Law with a focus on federal Indian law and property law.


Professor Bethany Berger is a widely read scholar of Property Law and Legal History and one of the leading federal Indian Law scholars in the country. She is a co-author and member of the Editorial Board of Felix S. Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law, the foundational treatise in the field, and co-author of leading casebooks in both Property Law and American Indian Law. Her articles have appeared in the Michigan Law Review, California Law Review, UCLA Law Review, and the Duke Law Journal, among other publications, and have been excerpted and discussed in many casebooks and edited collections as well as in briefs to the Supreme Court and testimony before Congress.

Professor Berger graduated with honors from Wesleyan University, where she was elected to phi beta kappa, and from Yale Law School. After law school, Professor Berger went to the Navajo and Hopi Nations to serve as the Director of the Native American Youth Law Project of DNA-People's Legal Services. There, she conducted litigation challenging discrimination against Indian children, drafted and secured the passage of tribal laws affecting children, and helped to create a Navajo alternative to detention program. She then became Managing Attorney of Advocates for Children of New York, where she worked on impact litigation and policy reform concerning the rights of children in public education.

At the University of Connecticut School of Law, Professor Berger teaches American Indian Law, Property, Tribal Law, and Conflict of Laws. She is also the Wallace Stevens Professor of Law, a chair named for one of America’s greatest poets, a lawyer who lived and worked in Hartford for most of his life. She has served as a judge for the Southwest Intertribal Court of Appeals and as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School and the University of Michigan Law School.

Areas of Expertise (6)

Conflict of Laws Children and Youth Federal Indian Law Preoperty Law Litigation and Policy Tribal Law

Education (2)

Yale Law School: J.D. 1996

Wesleyan University: B.A. 1990




Bethany Berger, J.D. Publication Bethany Berger, J.D. Publication



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Media Appearances (2)

Who Is In Charge When Non-Indians Settle on Indian Reservation Land?

U.S. World and News Report  


"People who have believed they were living in a reservation for their whole lives can suddenly find themselves outside the reservation, subject to state jurisdiction in ways they weren't before," University of Connecticut law professor Bethany Berger, who wrote a brief in support of the tribe, said in an interview...

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Donald Trump Meet Wong Kim Ark, the Chinese American Cook Who Is the Father of ‘birthright Citizenship’

The Washington Post  


Indeed, “John Wise, the collector who refused to admit Wong, described himself as a ’zealous opponent of Chinese immigration.’” writes University of Connecticut law professor Bethany Berger...

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Event Appearances (3)

Opportunity Everywhere—Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing to Transform Communities

Organizer and Speaker, 21st Gallivan Conference  


Indigenous (In)Justice: From Natural Resources to Marriage Equality

American Society for Law, Culture, and the Humanities  


Keynote, Tribal Courts in Perspective

Meeting of the Mashantucket Pequot Bar Association and Connecticut Association Indian Law Section  


Articles (5)

Resurrecting the Third Sovereign in the United States Supreme Court University of Illinois Law Review

Bethany Berger


There has long been speculation that the Supreme Court is hostile to Indian tribes. Between 1990 and 2015, tribal interests lost in 76.5 percent of Supreme Court cases distinctly affecting them; the loss rate rose to 82 percent in first decade of the Roberts Court. With four Indian law cases on the docket last year, Native communities were poised for disaster. Newspapers speculated on why tribes couldn’t win in the Supreme Court. By the end of June 2016, however, tribal interests had lost just one case, won two, and the Court split four-four in a fourth, affirming a lower court decision upholding tribal jurisdiction without opinion.

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Birthright Citizenship on Trial: Elk v. Wilkins and United States v. Wong Kim Ark Cardozo Law Review

Bethany Berger


In the summer of 2015, the majority of Republican candidates for President announced their opposition to birthright citizenship. The constitutional dimensions of that right revolve around two cases decided at the end of the nineteenth-century, Elk v. Wilkins (1884) and United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898). The first held that an American Indian man born in the United States was not a citizen under the fourteenth amendment; the second, that a Chinese American man born in the United States was indeed a citizen under the amendment. This Article juxtaposes the history of these decisions. By showing the distinctive constitutional and political status of Native peoples, this history makes clear the unconstitutionality of efforts to limit birthright citizenship and the consistency of Elk with the egalitarian ideals of the Fourteenth Amendment.

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The Illusion of Fiscal Illusion in Regulatory Takings Am. U. L. Review

Bethany Berger


The main economic justification for compensating owners for losses from land use restrictions is based on a surprising mistake. Compensation is said to make governments internalize the costs of their actions and therefore enact more efficient regulations. Without compensation, the argument goes, governments operate under a fiscal illusion because, from their perspective,
their actions are costless. The problem is that this argument makes no sense as a description of the actual costs to governments.

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Kelo v. New London: A Decade Later Title News

Bethany Berger


The Supreme Court issued its decision in Kelo v. New London ten years ago this June. This short piece, invited in response to a conference at UConn Law this spring, presents the backstory and aftermath of the case. The article frames the case against the distinctive situation of post-industrial cities like New London, and looks at why the case so resonated with the public. It summarizes the legal impact of the case at the state level and its limitations, and the less visible political impact on governmental decision makers. Finally, the article looks at what happened to New London and the plaintiffs after the case was decided.

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Diversely Native Federal Lawyer

Bethany Berger


This short article considers the distinctive challenges of respecting diversity when it comes to Native people. These challenges range from the trivial (disputes over politically correct terminology) to the fundamental (refusal to accept the governmental status of Indian tribes). The article outlines the varied definitions of Indian-ness, their tangential relationship to race, the distinct manifestations of racism with respect to Indians, and equal protection in Indian affairs. It concludes with why respecting Native rights remains a “miner’s canary” in judging our national commitment to our democratic faith.

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