Faculty Spotlight

Kirsten Matoy Carlson named ABF/JPB Foundation Access to Justice Scholar for 2023-24 cohort

Wayne Law Professor Kirsten Matoy Carlson has been selected to join the 2023-24 cohort of faculty scholars in the ABF/JPB Foundation Access to Justice Scholars Program.

The Access to Justice Scholars Program promotes the next generation of scholars and supports the infrastructure of the burgeoning field of access to justice. It brings together scholars from across the country from many disciplines — including law, political science, public health and sociology — to foster discoveries and build theoretical and empirical understanding of what is happening with access to civil justice.

Carlson is one of six faculty scholars elected by an advisory committee from a highly qualified pool of applicants with diverse academic backgrounds and project proposals. The faculty scholars will bring their unique expertise to further the program’s core mission: generating impactful research on access to civil justice and translating this research into practice. The scholars’ projects will produce both discoveries to inform social scientific understandings of access to civil justice, and knowledge to inform real-world policy and reduce poverty and inequality in the United States and beyond. Carlson’s work will investigate the gaps in existing measures of outcomes and impacts for legal services delivery in Native communities in the United States.

With funding from the JPB Foundation, the ABF supports these faculty scholars through mentorship, intellectual community and funding. Their projects span an array of topics, including Puerto Rico’s Medicaid program, legal service delivery in indigenous communities in the United States, how consumers engage with the civil legal system, unaccompanied children facing deportation in U.S. immigration courts, legal aid for eviction defense, and racial inequalities in driver’s license suspension.

headshot of Kirsten Matoy Carlson
Kirsten Matoy Carlson
“America’s access to justice crisis is decades old and, sadly, deepening,” said ABF Faculty Fellow and Access to Justice Scholars Program Director Rebecca Sandefur. “I’m thrilled to announce this year’s cohort of scholars, whose insights and creativity bring new thinking to the program. Their projects engage new kinds of partnerships critical to giving people and communities effective tools to combat poverty and the power to use their own laws as members of our democracy.”

Carlson is a leading authority on federal Indian law. Her interdisciplinary, empirical research investigates access to justice issues, including legal mobilization and law reform strategies used by Native peoples to reform law and policy effectively. Her work seeks to elevate Native voices in their quest for justice within the legal system. She integrates traditional legal analysis with social science methodologies for studying access to justice issues. Carlson’s groundbreaking research has revealed how tribal governments and Native organizations influence the federal legislative process to effect real world change in the lives of Native people. It has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy at Wayne Law. Her articles have appeared in the Michigan Law Review, Minnesota Law Review, University of Colorado Law Review, Indiana Law Journal, Harvard Journal on Legislation, Law and Society Review, and been selected for presentation at the Harvard/Stanford/Yale Junior Faculty Forum at Harvard Law School.

Currently, Carlson teaches Federal Indian Law, Legislation, Legal Change and Civil Procedure at Wayne State University Law School. She has received the Donald H. Gordon Award for Excellence in Teaching and been selected by students as the Professor of the Year, First Year.

Carlson brings a range of professional and academic experience to her teaching and research. She serves on the State Bar of Michigan Standing Committee on American Indian Law and is a fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Prior to joining Wayne Law, she advocated nationally and internationally to protect the rights of Indian nations as a staff attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center. She led the center’s advocacy efforts to restore criminal jurisdiction to Indian nations to end violence against women in Indian Country. She also clerked for the Hon. Diana E. Murphy of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Carlson earned her law degree cum laude and a doctorate in political science from the University of Michigan; a master of arts with distinction in Māori studies from the University of Wellington, New Zealand; and a bachelor’s in international studies from Johns Hopkins University.