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How was President Jackson able to overrule the Supreme Court and force the Cherokee to move?

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He didn't. Chief Justice John Marshall's written opinion(s) in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, (1831) and Worcester v. Georgia, (1832), the two Supreme Court decisions people mistakenly believe President Jackson overruled, applied only to the State of Georgia. Chief Justice John Marshall expressed his personal opinion about the United States' legal and ethical duty to the Native Americans within the body of the legal opinion, but his comments (called obiter dictum or dicta) weren't part of the Court's official decisions and weren't legally binding on the United States.

Explanation


In both Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, (1831) and Worcester v. Georgia, (1832), the Court declared the United States relationship to the Cherokee was that of two separate nations, with the Cherokee's status a "denominated domestic dependent nation," giving the federal government the sole right of negotiation with them and creating a duty to protect the Cherokee from Georgia's hostile actions. The decision in Worcester barred Georgia from annexing the land, and ruled the state did not have the right of possession, nor dominion over Cherokee laws or territory, short of military conquest or legal purchase. The Supreme Court's opinion applied specifically to Georgia, not to the federal government.

Jackson ignored Marshall's assertion that the federal government was obligated to protect the Native Americans; but there way no legal requirement for the federal government to follow Marshall's instructions because 1) the statement wasn't part of the official ruling (Worcester v. Georgia, (1832)); 2) the removal issue wasn't a question before the Court; 3) the United States wasn't party to the case; and 4) the Court has no power to enforce its rulings, anyway. The Constitution assigns authority over law enforcement to the Executive branch of government, over which the President presided. Because Jackson, then Van Buren, and Congress were in agreement about (mis)appropriating Cherokee land and moving them to less hospitable territory west of the Mississippi River, the Supreme Court had no way of preventing their action.

Jackson pressured the Governor of Georgia to pardon and release from jail the missionaries who had lived on Native American land without buying a required state license. Georgia continued to enforce its unconstitutional laws, but did not claim the disputed territory.

Jackson's presidential successor, Martin Van Buren, and Congress circumvented the Supreme Court by ratifying the Treaty of New Echota in 1836, an instrument signed by the Ridge Party, an unauthorized faction within the Cherokee Nation. The Treaty offered the Nation five million dollars and land in Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma) in exchange for the more desirable Southern ancestral land. Although John Ross, elected leader of the Cherokee Nation, protested to Congress, his pleas were ignored.

The Supreme Court never had an opportunity to rule on the validity of the Treaty because no case was presented for consideration.


For more information about Worcester v. Georgia, see Related Questions, below.
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