DEVELOPING: Supreme Court vacates Freedmen ruling

BY CHRISTINA GOOD VOICE
Special Correspondent
08/23/2011 06:58 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – The Cherokee Nation Supreme Court issued a 16-page ruling Aug. 22 that reversed and vacated the decision of the CN District Court regarding the Cherokee Freedmen, stating that the Cherokee people had the right to amend the CN constitution and set citizenship requirements.

Acting Principal Chief Joe Crittenden addressed the ruling at the Aug. 22 council meeting in his State of the Nation.

“All of us, the council, the staff and myself got copies (of the ruling,)” he said. “I’m going to defer to our attorney general for some comments concerning this. I know there are a lot of questions on people’s minds.”

Hammons said the ruling, which was filed at 5 p.m. Monday evening, reverses the decision of the District Court.

“It remands it with instructions to dismiss,” she said. “What that means is that the court has ruled that the Cherokee people properly could exercise their right to amend the constitution and they did so in March 2007. The court basically held that because the people properly exercised their right to amend their own constitution that the court could not interfere with that right.”

Hammons added that the court distinguishes that the Treaty of 1866 did not grant citizenship in the Cherokee Nation.

“I think we all understand that,” Hammons said. “I think what the Treaty of 1866 granted to Freedmen and their descendents were the rights of Native Cherokees. All of us as Native Cherokees could have our citizenship affected at any time by constitutional amendment. We argued that in the case.”

The court also found that the Treaty of 1866 only granted to Freedmen the rights of native Cherokees but that it was the constitution of the Cherokee people that granted them citizenship, she said.

“The freedmen at the time gained citizenship status in the Cherokee Nation by the Cherokee people’s sovereign expression in the 1866 constitutional amendment to the 1839 Cherokee Nation constitution,” according to the ruling. “It stands to reason that if the Cherokee People had the right to define the Cherokee Nation citizenship in the above mentioned 1866 Constitutional Amendment they would have the sovereign right to change the definition of the Cherokee Nation citizenship in their sovereign expression in the March 3, 2007 Constitutional Amendment.”

There were two specially concurring opinions,” Hammons said.

The decision is a 4-1 decision with one dissent. Justices Darell Matlock Jr., James Wilcoxen, Kyle Haskins and Troy Wayne Poteete concurred. Justice Darrell Dowty dissented, according to the ruling.

christina-goodvoice@cherokee.org • 918-207-3825

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