Samantha Blencke Kelty is a Senior Staff Attorney with the Native American Rights Fund and Managing Attorney of its Washington, DC, office. Samantha litigates to eliminate obstacles to voting faced by Native Americans and to advance equitable Indian education.
At NARF, she has successfully litigated or settled major victories for Native American voting rights, including compliance with the National Voter Registration Act in South Dakota, election day registration in Montana, ballot assistance in Montana and Nevada, ballot receipt extension deadlines in Nevada, and on-reservation polling places in Montana. She represented amicus curiae National Congress of American Indians before the United States Supreme Court in advocating for the use of ballot collection and equal access by Native American voters under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
She is currently representing tribes and individuals in Arizona to challenge an unconstitutional proof of address requirement that will disenfranchise Native voters with non-traditional addresses that are commonplace on tribal lands.
Outside of the courtroom, she often testifies before state elected bodies on proposed voting bills. She provided testimony and evidence that helped to shape the robust findings and recommendation of South Dakota Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Report on Voting Rights and Access in South Dakota.
She is presently focused on redistricting, in a major, first-of-its-kind project in Indian Country consisting of public education, attorney training, developing redistricting proposals, and litigation, all with the goal of removing barriers to voting in Indian communities. Through litigation or settlement, she is helping to increase representation in Indian County with fair maps in Lyman County, South Dakota; Benson County, North Dakota; northeastern North Dakota; western North Dakota; and Thurston County, Nebraska.
In addition to litigation, she is a member of the Native American Voting Rights Coalition, a nationwide alliance of advocates, lawyers, academics, and tribal representatives that addresses Native American voting issues nationwide.
In the education realm, Samantha currently represents six tribes, as well as individual parents, guardians, and students to compel fulfillment of a constitutional mandate to teach public school students the history and culture of the first peoples of Montana. She co-authored an amici curiae brief to the Ninth Circuit in a case of first impression regarding the legal obligations of the United States to educate K-12 tribal students.
Samantha started her career at DNA-People’s Legal Services representing low income clients in public interest matters, after which she was in private practice for more than15 years representing tribal schools and other tribal entities in employment, administrative litigation defense, and other general counsel services.
- South Texas College of Law, J.D.
- Dean’s Merit Scholarship
- University of New Mexico School of Law, visiting student, honor roll
- Louisiana State University, B.A. English
Admissions to Practice
- United States Supreme Court
- United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
- United States District Court for the District of Arizona
- United States Tax Court
Broadcast Media Appearances
- Indigenous, Native American tribes are pushing for voting rights. (KSHB 41, Kansas City, 1/17/2022)
- In Indian Country, COVID-19 Yet Another Obstacle To Casting A Vote. (NPR, 11/2/2020)
- Indigenous Get Out The Vote Groups Make Final Push. (Yellowstone Public Radio, 11/2/2020)
- “2020 Census Data and Redistricting — What’s New? What’s Next?” (National Congress of American Indians, October 2021)
- “Leadership Learning Series: Moving Beyond Allyship to Advocacy: Responding to Voter Suppression.” Panel participant. (Institute for Nonprofit Practice, October 2021)
- “A Call to Action: Eliminating Voting Barriers for Historically Disenfranchised Groups.” (Mi Familia Vota, July 2021)
- Speaker on barriers for Native voters. (Fair Elections Center, June 2021)
- “The Surge of Voter Suppression Laws Premised on the Big Lie.” Panel participant. (DFL Lawyers Committee, April 2021)