Supreme Court Decisions: Cherokee Nation v. Georgiaby United States Supreme Court
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Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 30 U.S. 1 (1831), was a United States Supreme Court case. The Cherokee Nation sought a federal injunction against laws passed by the state of Georgia depriving them of rights within its boundaries, but the Supreme Court did not hear the case on its merits. It ruled that it had no original jurisdiction in the matter, as the Cherokee were a dependent nation, with a relationship to the United States like that of a ward to its guardian.
In June 1830, a delegation of Cherokee led by Chief John Ross, selected (at the urging of Senators Daniel Webster and Theodore Frelinghuysen), William Wirt, attorney general in the Monroe and Adams administrations, to defend Cherokee rights before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Cherokee Nation asked for an injunction, claiming that Georgia's state legislation had created laws that "go directly to annihilate the Cherokees as a political society." Wirt argued that "the Cherokee Nation [was] a foreign nation in the sense of our constitution and law" and was not subject to Georgia's jurisdiction. Wirt asked the Supreme Court to void all Georgia laws extended over Cherokee lands on the grounds that they violated the U.S. Constitution, United States-Cherokee treaties, and United States intercourse laws.
The Court did hear the case but declined to rule on the merits. The Court determined that the framers of the Constitution did not really consider the Indian Tribes as foreign nations but more as "domestic dependent nation[s]" and consequently the Cherokee Nation lacked the standing to sue as a "foreign" nation. Chief Justice Marshall said; "The court has bestowed its best attention on this question, and, after mature deliberation, the majority is of the opinion that an Indian tribe or nation within the United States is not a foreign state in the sense of the constitution, and cannot maintain an action in the courts of the United States. " [CHEROKEE NATION v. STATE OF GA., 30 U.S. 1 (1831)] The Court held open the possibility that it yet might rule in favor of the Cherokee "in a proper case with proper parties". However, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote that "the relationship of the tribes to the United States resembles that of a ‘ward to its guardian'.
This edition of this landmark Supreme Court case is specially formatted for e-readers.
- Charles River Editors
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