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Solem v. Bartlett

United States Supreme Court
465 U.S. 463 (1984)


The federal government initially allocated land to the Indians by placing the Indians on reservations. Beginning in the late 1800s, Congress started to assimilate Indians into broader society, encouraging the Indians to join the national economy through the privatization of land. To support the effort of privatization, Congress passed a series of acts that opened reservations and allotted land to the Indians. Surplus land from the allotments was sometimes retained as reservation land for Indians and was sometimes sold to non-Indians. At the time the laws were passed, Congress paid little attention to whether the opening of land diminished the boundaries of the reservations. Jurisdictional questions arose between the state and the federal governments, each of which was uncertain as to whether the state or the federal government had legal authority over the opened lands. Bartlett (defendant) was an Indian convicted of a state crime committed on what was believed to be Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation (Reservation) land. Bartlett filed a federal habeas corpus petition to overturn the conviction. Bartlett argued that South Dakota lacked jurisdiction to obtain the conviction. South Dakota argued that a 1908 act that opened surplus lands to non-Indians had reduced the land owned by the Reservation and that Bartlett had committed the crime on nonreservation land. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Marshall, J.)

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