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Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

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Significance: The Supreme Court declared that the Cherokee Nation was not a sovereign, independent country and defined the Cherokee as a “domestic dependent nation.”


When the Cherokee adopted a constitution and declared themselves an independent state, the Georgia legislature counteracted by annulling all American Indian laws and dividing their land into counties under state jurisdiction. The U.S. Congress and the president were sympathetic to Georgia's position. Because the Cherokee were not citizens of Georgia, they were unable to sue the state in federal court. Therefore, the lawyer for the tribe went directly to the Supreme Court, invoking original jurisdiction as a “foreign state” under Article III of the U.S. Constitution. By a 4-2 margin, the Court rejected the tribe's claim for independent statehood; the suit was therefore dismissed for a lack of jurisdiction. Discussing the “peculiar” status of the tribes, Chief Justice John Marshall emphasized that they were “under the sovereignty and dominion of the United States.” The language of Marshall and other justices suggested that they might, if given a “proper case with proper parties,” be prepared to restrain the states from interfering with Indian lands.