On Wednesday, Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan ruled that the descendants of slaves originally owned by members of the Cherokee Nation, also known as freedmen, are entitled to the same rights that Cherokee citizens are, Law360 reported.
A group of freedman represented by Pillsbury pro bono in related litigation since 2003, along with the U.S. Department of the Interior, faced a lawsuit by the Cherokee Nation. The suit sought to have freedman declared as ineligible for citizenship in the tribe under its 1866 treaty with the federal government.
The Nation argued that the descendants of the freedmen cannot claim tribe membership under a 2007 constitutional amendment. According to Washington, DC Litigation senior counsel Alvin Dunn, the amendment left more than 2,800 freedmen affected when the Nation revoked their citizenship and could have affected many more freedmen who wished to apply for citizenship to the Nation.
In his judgment, Judge Hogan ruled that because the 1866 treaty equalized freedmen’s rights with native Cherokees’ rights, freedmen are also entitled to the citizenship that the tribe’s constitution guarantees native Cherokees. He said that freedmen’s rights aren’t decided by the Cherokee Nation Constitution, but are “tethered to the rights of native Cherokees.”
Dunn told Law360 that he is hopeful that with the ruling, the freedmen and the Cherokee Nation will be able to work out a settlement that will guarantee the freedmen full citizenship rights in the tribe. “It’s really mostly about inclusion and recognition that they are fully part of the Cherokee Nation,” Dunn said.
In addition to Dunn, the freedmen are also represented by Washington, DC Litigation partner Jack McKay and counsel Cynthia Robertson.
Read more about Judge Hogan’s decision on Law360 (subscription required).