Judge issues final judgment on Freedmen case
WASHINGTON – Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan issued a final judgment in the case of Cherokee Nation v. Nash, Vann and the Department of Interior on Feb. 20, regarding Cherokee Freedmen citizenship.
This judgment follows the CN’s motion for a final judgment.
Hogan’s judgment states, “There is no reason for delay in entry of a final judgment in this action. The issue of the citizenship rights of Cherokee Freedmen has been litigated for many years and now that ruling has been made, all citizens of the Cherokee Nation are entitled to a final judgment not only for closure but also to facilitate implementation and enforcement of the court’s ruling.”
He added that any claims remaining between the Freedmen and the federal defendants “can be litigated by them fully independent of the claims involving the Cherokee Nation and its officers.”
On Aug. 30, Hogan denied the CN and Principal Chief Bill John Baker’s motion for “partial summary judgment” and granted the Freedmen “cross-motion for partial summary judgment” and the Interior’s motion for “summary judgment” in the case.
The Aug. 30 ruling stated “the paramount question” in the case is whether Article 9 of the 1866 Treaty between the U.S. and the CN allowed qualifying Freedmen “all the rights of native Cherokees” and encompasses a right to CN citizenship.
A secondary question was whether Article 9 gave CN citizenship to Freedmen listed on the Final Dawes Roll of Cherokee Freedmen. Answers to those questions would determine if the 2007 amendment to the CN Constitution that excluded most Freedmen descendants from CN citizenship violated 1866 Treaty and was unlawful.
“The Cherokee Nation is mistaken to treat Freedmen’s right to citizenship as being tethered to the Cherokee Nation Constitution when, in fact, that right is tethered to the rights of native Cherokees. Furthermore, the Freedmen’s right to citizenship does not exist solely under the Cherokee Nation Constitution and therefore cannot be extinguished solely by amending that Constitution,” states Hogan’s ruling. “The Cherokee Nation’s sovereign right to determine its membership is no less now, as a result of this (Aug. 30) decision, than it was after the Nation executed the 1866 Treaty. The Cherokee Nation concedes that its power to determine tribal membership can be limited by treaty. In accordance with Article 9 of the 1866 Treaty, the Cherokee Freedmen have a present right to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation that is coextensive with the rights of Native Cherokees.”
On Sept. 1, CN Attorney General Todd Hembree issued a statement saying he was “grateful to finally have a ruling on the core legal issues” that were presented to Hogan in 2014, and it was always his goal to present arguments before the court and get a final decision that was binding on all parties.
“The Cherokee Nation respects the rule of law, and yesterday we began accepting and processing citizenship applications from Freedmen descendants. I do not intend to file an appeal,” Hembree wrote. “While the U.S. District Court ruled against the Cherokee Nation, I do not see it as a defeat. As the Attorney General, I see this as an opportunity to resolve the Freedmen citizenship issue and allow the Cherokee Nation to move beyond this dispute.”