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Cherokee Nation v. Georgia

In 1830, a Cherokee delegation led by Chief John Ross selected William Wirt, who was attorney general during the Monroe and Adams administrations, to defend Cherokee rights before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Cherokee nation asked for a repeal of the Indian Removal Act on the grounds that Georgia’s state legislation had created laws which directly annihilate the Cherokees as a political society.” Wirt argued that the Cherokee Nation was a foreign nation in the sense of our constitution and was not subject to the laws enforced by the state of Georgia. Wirt requested that the Supreme Court null and void all Georgia laws that extended over Cherokee lands on the grounds that they violate the U.S. Constitution, existing treaties between the U.S. and the Cherokee nation, and U.S. federal law.

The request was denied because the Cherokee people, who claimed to be independent of the United States, were actually a “denominated domestic dependent nation”, which meant that the Supreme Court had no original jurisdiction in the case. This means that the case should have been settled in Cherokee courts, since this is where the case originated from. Even though the Supreme Court decided they did not have original jurisdiction in this case, the Court held open the possibility that it could still rule in favor of the Cherokee.

It is impossible to examine the trial of the Cherokee Nation V. the State of Georgia without acknowledging the 1832 Supreme Court decision of Worcester V. Georgia. This case ruled that Georgia could not impose its laws upon Cherokee tribal lands. It held that Cherokee Native Americans were entitled to federal protection from the actions of the laws of any state government that would infringe on the tribe’s sovereignty.