WORCESTER v. GEORGIA
In September 1831, Samuel A. Worcester and others, all non-Native Americans, were indicted in the supreme court for the county of Gwinnett in the state of Georgia for "residing within the limits of the Cherokee nation without a license" and "without having taken the oath to support and defend the constitution and laws of the state of Georgia." They were indicted under an 1830 act of the Georgia legislature entitled "an act to prevent the exercise of assumed and arbitrary power by all persons, under pretext of authority from the Cherokee Indians." Among other things, Worcester argued that the state could not maintain the prosecution because the statute violated the Constitution, treaties between the United States and the Cherokee nation, and an act of Congress entitled "an act to regulate trade and intercourse with the Indian tribes." Worcester was convicted and sentenced to "hard labour in the penitentiary for four years." The U.S. Supreme Court received the case on a writ of error.
Does the state of Georgia have the authority to regulate the intercourse between citizens of its state and members of the Cherokee Nation?
No. In an opinion delivered by Chief Justice John Marshall, the Court held that the Georgia act, under which Worcester was prosecuted, violated the Constitution, treaties, and laws of the United States. Noting that the "treaties and laws of the United States contemplate the Indian territory as completely separated from that of the states; and provide that all intercourse with them shall be carried on exclusively by the government of the union," Chief Justice Marshall argued, "The Cherokee nation, then, is a distinct community occupying its own territory in which the laws of Georgia can have no force. The whole intercourse between the United States and this nation, is, by our constitution and laws, vested in the government of the United States." The Georgia act thus interfered with the federal government's authority and was unconstitutional. Justice Henry Baldwin dissented for procedural reasons and on the merits.