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Law School Case Brief

Elk v. Wilkins - 112 U.S. 94, 5 S. Ct. 41 (1884)

Rule:

An Indian cannot make himself a citizen of the United States without the consent and cooperation of the government. The fact that he has abandoned his nomadic life or tribal relations, and adopted the habits and manners of civilized people, may be a good reason why he should be made a citizen of the United States, but does not of itself make him one. To be a citizen of the United States is a political privilege which no one, not born to, can assume without its consent in some form.

Facts:

Plaintiff Elk, a Native American, brought suit against defendant registrar for refusing to register him as a qualified voter within Omaha, Nebraska. The circuit court dismissed plaintiff's petition. 

Issue:

Was Elk deprived of his right when the registrar refused to register him as a qualified voter?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court affirmed. The Court held that Elk was not a citizen of the United States under the Fourteenth Amendment, and had thus not been deprived of any right under the Fifteenth Amendment. The Court found that even though plaintiff was born in the United States and had severed his tribal relationship, plaintiff had never been naturalized and plaintiff had not become a citizen through any statute or treaty. The Court held that Native Americans born within the territorial limits of the United States were not "born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof" within the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court found that the exclusion of Native Americans from the basis of representation and taxation was wholly inconsistent with their being considered citizens.

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