Cover image for American Indian sovereignty and the U.S. Supreme Court : the masking of justice
American Indian sovereignty and the U.S. Supreme Court : the masking of justice
Wilkins, David E. (David Eugene), 1954-
First University of Texas Press edition.
Publication Information:
Austin : University of Texas Press, 1997.
Physical Description:
xv, 403 pages ; 24 cm
Corporate Subject:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF8205 .W527 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
KF8205 .W527 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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"Like the miner's canary, the Indian marks the shift from fresh air to poison gas in our political atmosphere; and our treatment of Indians, even more than our treatment of other minorities, reflects the rise and fall in our democratic faith," wrote Felix S. Cohen, an early expert in Indian legal affairs.

In this book, David Wilkins charts the "fall in our democratic faith" through fifteen landmark cases in which the Supreme Court significantly curtailed Indian rights. He offers compelling evidence that Supreme Court justices selectively used precedents and facts, both historical and contemporary, to arrive at decisions that have undermined tribal sovereignty, legitimated massive tribal land losses, sanctioned the diminishment of Indian religious rights, and curtailed other rights as well.

These case studies--and their implications for all minority groups--make important and troubling reading at a time when the Supreme Court is at the vortex of political and moral developments that are redefining the nature of American government, transforming the relationship between the legal and political branches, and altering the very meaning of federalism.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Wilkins (U. of Arizona) offers a detailed, thorough analysis of 15 US Supreme Court cases involving Native Americans. Although not a general history of Native American-white relations or Native American law, the roughly historical treatment is excellent, especially in its examination of the most recent era--from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. The cases range from the well-known Johnson v. M'Intosh to the little-known Ward v. Racehorse, but all are instances in which the Court has mistakenly "limited or terminated the rights of indigenous peoples." In each case the author notes the errors the justices made and the "judicial masks" that have often enabled them to ignore reality and morality. Although not treated in as much detail, the main argument of Native American cases--codified in Felix Cohen's Handbook of Federal Indian Law (1972)--is ably contrasted with these anomalies. Wilkins correctly notes the prior existence (as self-governing nations with diverse cultures) of Native American societies in what became the US and argues that the main line of decision acknowledges this reality and is based on the moral notion that the rights of Native Americans should not be abolished without their consent. Judicious and persuasive, he provides new information and insights in this important field. A must read for tribal officials, attorneys, judges, public officials, and others concerned with Native American affairs. E. R. Rusco emeritus, University of Nevada, Reno

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Legal Masks, Legal Consciousness
Chapter 2 The Era of Defining Tribes, Their Lands, and Their Sovereignty
Chapter 3 The Era of Congressional Ascendancy over Tribes: 1886-1903
Chapter 4 The Era of "Myths": Citizenship, Nomadism, and Moral Progress
Chapter 5 The Era of Judicial Backlash and Land Claims
Chapter 6 The Era of the Imperial Judiciary
Chapter 7 Removing the Masks
Appendix A Cases Cited
Appendix B Supreme Court Justices Authoring the Fifteen Opinions Analyzed