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Law
Cherokee officials open to lawsuit from Freedmen


Officials of the Cherokee Nation, but not the tribe itself, can be sued by the Freedmen, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today.

In a unanimous decision, the court said the tribe cannot be joined as an indispensable party to a lawsuit filed by descendants of former Cherokee slaves. The Freedmen plaintiffs sued the Interior Department to enforce an 1866 treaty.

Neither the treaty nor the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed slavery, waived the tribe's immunity, the court said. But tribal officials can be sued over "allegations of ongoing constitutional and treaty violations," the court said.

"[T]he Thirteenth Amendment and the 1866 Treaty whittled away the tribe’s sovereignty with regard to slavery and left it powerless to discriminate against the Freedmen on the basis of their status as former slaves," the decision stated.

D.C. Circuit Decision:
Vann v. Kempthorne (July 29, 2008)

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