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Richard Hirn '76
Richard Hirn '76

Richard Hirn '76 Wins Court Case Expanding Hiring Preferences for American Indians

Washington, D.C.-based attorney Richard Hirn ’76, who was featured in the “Roads Taken and Not Taken” section of the winter alumni magazine, recently won a victory for the Indian Educators Federation (IEF) when the United States District Court ruled that the Secretary of the Interior must give American Indians preference for employment in any position within the Interior Department that directly and primarily relates to providing services to Indians. The decision was issued under a New Deal era law that was established to promote greater Indian self-governance. Section 12 of the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 requires the Secretary to give preference to Indians for appointment to any position in the “Indian Office, in the administration of functions or services affecting any Indian tribe.” Since 1988, the Interior Department has interpreted this provision to apply only to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and to those organizational units that have been transferred from the BIA to other parts of the Interior Department. In the decision, Chief Justice Thomas Hogan said that the term “Indian Office” was not defined in the 1934 law, nor was there any such agency within the Interior Department when the law was enacted, and that the term “Indian Office” must be construed broadly because the Supreme Court has previously ruled that any ambiguity in a statute enacted for the benefit of Indians must be interpreted in their favor. Richard Hirn currently specializes in labor, administrative, civil service and constitutional law litigation.

Founders Green on a warm spring day.

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