Choate v. Trapp,
224 U.S. 665 (1912)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Choate v. Trapp, 224 U.S. 665 (1912)

Choate v. Trapp

No. 809

Argued February 23, 1912

Decided May 13, 1912

224 U.S. 665


There is a broad distinction between the power to abrogate a statute and to destroy rights acquired under it, and while Congress, under its plenary power over Indian tribes, can amend or repeal an agreement by a later statute, it cannot destroy actually existing individual rights of property acquired under a former statute or agreement.

The individual Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian had no title or enforceable right in tribal property, but Congress recognized his equitable interest therein in the Curtis Act of June 28, 1898, 30 Stat. 505, and offered to give to him, in consideration of his consenting to the distribution, an allotment of nontaxable land, and the acceptance of the patent by each member of the tribe was on the consideration of relinquishment of his interest in the unallotted tribal property.

A patent for an Indian allotment containing an agreement assenting to the plan of distribution, like a deed poll, bound the grantee although not signed by him, and the benefits constituted the consideration for the rights waived.

The tax exemption in the patents for Indian allotments under the Curtis Act was not a mere safeguard against alienation, and did not fall with the removal of restrictions from alienation by the Act of May 27, 1908, 35 Stat. 312.

The removal of restrictions on alienation of Indian allotments falls within the power of Congress to regulate Indian affairs, but the provision for nontaxation is a property right, and not subject to action by Congress.

Page 224 U. S. 666

The nontaxation provisions as to Indian allotted lands in the Curtis Act gave a property right to the allottees, and was binding on the State of Oklahoma.

Patents issued in pursuance of statute are to be construed in connection with the statute, and those issued to allottee Indian under the Curtis Act gave the allottees as good a title to the exemption from taxation as to the land itself, and the tax exemption constituted property of which the patentees could not, under the Fifth Amendment, be deprived without due process of law.

An exemption from taxation of land allotted to Indians in pursuance of an agreement to distribute the tribal property will not be construed strictly, as a gratuitous exemption to a public service corporation is ordinarily construed, but will be construed liberally under the rule that all contracts with Indians are so construed.

The tax exemption provisions of the patents to Indian allottees under the Curtis Act attached to the land for the limited period of the exemption.

Indians are not excepted from the protection guaranteed by the federal Constitution, but their rights are secured and enforced to the same extent as those of other residents or citizens of the United States.

Tiger v. Western Investment Co., 221 U. S. 286, distinguished as not involving property rights, but only the right of Congress to extend the period of disability to alienate the allotments, and as not intimating that Congress could, by its wardship lessen, any rights of property actually vested in the individual Indian by prior laws or contracts.

Oklahoma, by its constitution, has recognized the tax exemption in the patents of allottee Indians, and, as a vested right, it cannot be abrogated by statute.

28 Okl. 517 reversed.

The facts, which involve the taxability of Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian allotted lands in Oklahoma while in possession of the allottees, are stated in the opinion.

Page 224 U. S. 667

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