United States v. Jackson (280 U.S. 183)

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United States v. Jackson (280 U.S. 183) by William Howard Taft
Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

280 U.S. 183

United States  v.  Jackson (280 U.S. 183)

 Argued: Dec. 5, 1929. --- Decided: Jan 6, 1930

In accordance with the provisions of the Act of Congress of July 4, 1884, c. 180, § 1 (23 Stat. 76, 96; 43 U.S.C. 190 (43 USCA § 190)), the United States, on December 11, 1891, issued to Jack Williams, an Indian, a trust patent on certain lands. The patent recited that the United States would hold the lands in trust for the sole use and benefit of Williams, or, in case of his decease, of his widow and heirs, for a period of 25 years from the date thereof, and that at the expiration of such time the United States would convey the land to Williams, or his widow or heirs, in fee and free of the trust or any incumbrance whatever.

Before the expiration of the 25-year trust period, Williams died, and his interest in the land passed to his widow and sole heir, Nellie Williams, an Indian woman. She held the land until March 18, 1921, more than four years after the trust period, by its terms, would have expired, and then deeded it to Jack Jackson, also an Indian. In the succeeding year-October 10, 1922-she died, leaving a will by which the same property was devised to Bob Roberts, a tribale Indian.

The deed to Jackson was recorded November 3, 1922; but the Secretary of the Interior has never approved it.

Nellie Williams' will, and the devise to Roberts therein contained, were approved by the Secretary of the Interior, December 1, 1923.

This is a suit by the United States against the heirs of Jack Jackson. It is brought on behalf of Bob Roberts, and its purpose is to quiet title in him to the lands in question. The position of the United States is that, while it is true that the deed to Jackson was made after the original 25-year trust period, with its attendant restrictions on alienation, had, by the terms of the trust patent, expired, it further appears that the restrictions on the alienation of this land by Williams or his heirs has been continued in force and extended by a series of 1-year executive orders from 1916 to 1919, and by a further 25-year executive order issued in 1920. The executive orders in question were, it is urged, authorized by the Act of Congress of June 21, 1906 (chapter 3504, 34 Stat. 325, 326).

The United States therefore argued that the deed to Jackson, having been made while there was a restriction on alienation, and not having been approved by the Secretary of the Interior, was void.

The District Court (27 F.(2d) 751) held that the Act of June 21, 1906, did not authorize the President to continue the restrictions on alienation contained in the patent issued to Williams. The purpose of the 1906 act, said the District Court, was to permit the continuation of restrictions in patents issued to Indian allottees, that is, to Indians who received patents under the General Allotment Act of February 8, 1887, which created the Indian allotment system, or under any of its subsequent amendments (25 USCA § 331 et seq.); but that the 1906 act did not purport to give the President a like power with respect to Indians who received their patents under the Act of July 4, 1884 which conferred homestead entry rights upon Indians.

The court therefore held that the restrictions on the alienation of this land had expired at the time Williams' widow deeded it to Jackson; that there was no statute expressly extending the restrictions, and no statute authorizing the President so to do; that the deed to Jackson conformed to the law of the state where it was executed, and it was valid.

The United States appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The judges of that court, being in doubt, have certified to us, conformably to section 239 of the Judicial Code, as amended by the Act of February 13, 1925 (chapter 229, 43 Stat. 936, 938, 28 USCA § 346), the two following questions of law concerning which our instruction is desired for the proper decision of the cause:

'1. Could the trust period and the restriction of alienation in an Indian homestead patent issued under the Act of July 4, 1884 (43 USCA § 190), be extended by executive orders?

'2. Did the Act of June 21, 1906 (25 USCA § 391), authorize the President in his discretion to continue restrictions on alienation in patents issued under the Indian Homestead Act of July 4, 1884 (43 USCA § 190)?'

The Attorney General and Mr. Richardson, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the United States.

[Argument of Counsel from pages 186-188 intentionally omitted]

Mr. Chief Justice TAFT, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).