Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 30 U.S. 1; 8 L. Ed. 25; U.S. LEXIS 337 (1831)

Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 30 U.S. 1; 8 L. Ed. 25; U.S. LEXIS 337 (1831)

Facts—The Cherokee nation filed a suit enjoining Georgia from enforcing laws that parceled out Indian lands and otherwise interfered with their rights.


(a) Is an Indian tribe a state or a foreign nation that can bring a suit in Court?

(b) Will the Court issue an injunction against Georgia?


(a) No;

(b) No.

ReasonsC.J. Marshall (4–2). Under the U.S. Constitution, Indian tribes did not constitute either a domestic state or a foreign nation. They could best be described as “domestic dependent nations” in the relation of a ward to a guardian. The tribe could thus not bring a case before the Court under Article III. Moreover, the request by the Cherokee nation “savours too much of the exercise of political power to be within the proper province of the judicial department.” Thus, “If it be true that the Cherokee nation have rights, this is not the tribunal in which those rights are to be asserted.”

J. Johnson and J. Baldwin concurred, and J. Thompson dissented. Johnson agreed that the Cherokee tribe was neither a state nor a foreign nation. Baldwin thought that Marshall’s opinion attempted to give the tribe a status it did not have under the Constitution. Thompson believed that the Indians could be considered as a foreign state over which the Court had competence and that they were entitled to relief under treaties and other agreements to which they were parties.

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