U.S. COMMISSION ON CIVIL RIGHTS STAFF MEMORANDUM:
CONSTITUTIONAL STATUS OF AMERICAN INDIANS
1968 INDIAN BILL OF RIGHTS
These cases illustrate what the Constitutional Rights subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary saw as a "continued denial of Constitutional guarantees" to American Indians, on the ground that tribes are quasi-sovereign entities to which general provisions of the Constitution do not apply. In 1961, that subcommittee instituted a lengthy investigation of the legal status of American Indians and the problems they encounter when asserting their constitutional rights in their relations with the state, federal and tribal governments.
This effort, largely engineered by Sen. Sam Ervin, chairman of the subcommittee, culminated in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, (47) Title II of which constitutes a bill of rights for American Indians. It provides that Indian tribes exercising powers of self-government shall be subject to many of the same limitations and restraints which are imposed on federal, state and local governments by the United States constitution. Two major exceptions are that the Indian Bill of Rights provides the right to counsel before tribal courts only at the defendant's "own expense," and, although religious freedom is protected, the Act does not contain a prohibition against the establishment of religion by a tribal government.
47) Public Law 90-284; 25 U.S.C. 1301, et. seq.
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