Law School Case Brief
Cherokee Nation v. Georgia - 30 U.S. 1 (1831)
The U.S. Const. art. III, § 8, empowers Congress to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Native American tribes.
The Cherokee Nation of Native Americans filed an original action in the Supreme Court of the United States seeking an injunction to restrain the State of Georgia and its officials from executing and enforcing the laws of the State, or serving process, or doing anything towards the execution or enforcement of those laws, within the Cherokee Nation's territory, as designated by treaty between the United States and the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation argued that it was a distinct state, as a political society, separated from the others, capable of managing its own affairs and governing itself. It also argued that it was not a state of the union, but rather a foreign state.
Was the Cherokee Nation entitled to the injunctive relief sought?
The Court denied the Cherokee Nation's motion for an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the State's laws within the Cherokee nation's territory. The Court first held that a Native American tribe or nation within the United States was not a "foreign state" in the sense of the federal Constitution, and thus it could not maintain an action in the courts of the United States. The Court further ruled that if indeed the Cherokee Nation had rights, the Court was not the tribunal in which those rights were to be asserted. Likewise, if indeed the Cherokee Nation had been injured, and if future injuries were feared, the Court was not the tribunal that could redress the past or prevent the future harms.
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