Elk v. Wilkins
112 U.S. 94 (1884)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S. 94 (1884)

Elk v. Wilkins

Argued April 28, 1884

Decided November 3, 1884

112 U.S. 94

Syllabus

An Indian, born a member of one of the Indian tribes within the United States, which still exists and is recognized as a tribe by the government of the United States, who has voluntarily separated himself from his tribe, and taken up his residence among the white citizens of a state, but who has not been naturalized, or taxed, or recognized as a citizen either by the United States or by the state, is not a citizen of the United States within the meaning of the first section of the Fourteenth Article of Amendment of the Constitution.

A petition alleging that the plaintiff is an Indian, and was born within the United States, and has severed his tribal relation to the Indian tribes, and fully and completely surrendered himself to the jurisdiction of the United States, and still so continues subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and is a bona fide resident of the Nebraska and City of Omaha, does not show that he is a citizen of the United States under the Fourteenth Article of Amendment of the Constitution.

This is an action brought by an Indian in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Nebraska against the registrar of one of the wards of the City of Omaha for refusing to register him as a qualified voter therein. The petition was as follows:

This is an action brought by an Indian, in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Nebraska, against the registrar of one of the wards of the City of Omaha, for refusing to register him as a qualified voter therein. The petition was as follows:

Page 112 U. S. 95

"John Elk, plaintiff, complains of Charles Wilkins, defendant, and avers that the matter in dispute herein exceeds the sum of five hundred dollars, to-wit, the sum of six thousand dollars, and that the matter in dispute herein arises under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and, for cause of action against the defendant, avers that he, the plaintiff, is an Indian, and was born within the United States; that more than one year prior to the grievances hereinafter complained of he had severed his tribal relation to the Indian tribes, and had fully and completely surrendered himself to the jurisdiction of the United States, and still so continues subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and avers that, under and by virtue of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, he is a citizen of the United States, and entitled to the right and privilege of citizens of the United States."

"That on the sixth day of April, 1880, there was held in the City of Omaha (a City of the first class, incorporated under the general laws of the State of Nebraska, providing for the incorporation of cities of the first class) a general election for the election of members of the city council and other officers for said city."

"That the defendant, Charles Wilkins, held the office of and acted as registrar in the Fifth Ward of said city, and that as such registrar it was the duty of such defendant to register the names of all persons entitled to exercise the elective franchise in said ward of said city at said general election."

"That this plaintiff was a citizen of and had been a bona fide resident of the State of Nebraska for more than six months prior to said sixth day of April, 1880, and had been a bona fide resident of Douglas County, wherein the City of Omaha is situate, for more than forty days, and in the Fifth Ward of said city more than ten days prior to the said sixth day of April, and was such citizen and resident at the time of said election, and at the time of his attempted registration, as hereinafter set forth, and was in every way qualified, under the laws of the State of Nebraska and of the City of Omaha, to be registered as a voter, and to cast a vote at said election, and complied with the laws of the city and state in that behalf. "

Page 112 U. S. 96

"That on or about the fifth day of April, 1880, and prior to said election, this plaintiff presented himself to said Charles Wilkins, as such registrar at his office, for the purpose of having his name registered as a qualified voter, as provided by law, and complied with all the provisions of the statutes in that regard, and claimed that, under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, he was a citizen of the United States, and was entitled to exercise the elective franchise, regardless of his race and color, and that said Wilkins, designedly, corruptly, willfully, and maliciously, did then and there refuse to register this plaintiff, for the sole reason that the plaintiff was an Indian, and therefore not a citizen of the United States, and not therefore entitled to vote, and on account of his race and color, and with the willful, malicious, corrupt, and unlawful design to deprive this plaintiff of his right to vote at said election, and of his rights, and all other Indians of their rights, under said Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the Constitution of the United States, on account of his and their race and color."

"That on the sixth day of April, this plaintiff presented himself at the place of voting in said ward, and presented a ballot, and requested the right to vote, where said Wilkins, who was then acting as one of the judges of said election in said ward, in further carrying out his willful and malicious designs as aforesaid, declared to the plaintiff and to the other election officers that the plaintiff was an Indian, and not a citizen, and not entitled to vote, and said judges and clerks of election refused to receive the vote of the plaintiff, for that he was not registered as required by law."

"Plaintiff avers the fact to be that by reason of said willful, unlawful, corrupt, and malicious refusal of said defendant to register this plaintiff, as provided by law, he was deprived of his right to vote at said election, to his damage in the sum of $6,000."

"Wherefore, plaintiff prays judgment against defendant for $6,000, his damages, with costs of suit."

The defendant filed a general demurrer for the following causes: 1st, that the petition did not state facts sufficient to

Page 112 U. S. 97

constitute a cause of action; 2d, that the court had no jurisdiction of the person of the defendant; 3d, that the court had no jurisdiction of the subject of the action.

The demurrer was argued before Judge McCrary and Judge Dundy, and sustained, and, the plaintiff electing to stand by his petition, judgment was rendered for the defendant, dismissing the petition, with costs. The plaintiff sued out this writ of error.

By the Constitution of the State of Nebraska, article 7 section 1,

"Every male person of the age of twenty-one years or upwards, belonging to either of the following classes, who shall have resided in the state six months, and in the county, precinct, or ward for the term provided by law, shall be an elector. First, citizens of the United States. Second, persons of foreign birth who shall have declared their intention to become citizens, conformably to the laws of the United States on the subject of naturalization at least thirty days prior to an election."

By the statutes of Nebraska, every male person of the age of twenty-one years or upward, belonging to either of the two classes so defined in the constitution of the state, who shall have resided in the state six months, in the county forty days, and in the precinct, township, or ward ten days, shall be an elector; the qualifications of electors in the several wards of cities of the first class (of which Omaha is one) shall be the same as in precincts; it is the duty of the registrar to enter in the register of qualified voters the name of every person who applies to him to be registered, and satisfies him that he is qualified to vote under the provisions of the election laws of the state, and at all municipal, as well as county or state elections, the judges of election are required to check the name, and receive and deposit the ballot, of any person whose name appears on the register. Compiled Statutes of Nebraska of 1881, c. 26, § 3; c. 13, § 14; c. 76, §§ 6, 13, 19.

Page 112 U. S. 98

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