Shenandoah, et al. v. Halbritter Historic Case

At a Glance

Date Filed: 

February 13, 1996


The Oneida Nation of New York

Case Description 

On February 13, 1996, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and local counsel filed suit on behalf of the Oneida Nation of New York against the U.S. Department of the Interior, charging that the government violated the Oneidas’ national sovereignty. The suit alleged that the Department refused to recognize a legitimate decision by the Nation and the Grand Council of the Haudenosaunee, Six Nations Confederacy, to remove Arthur Raymond Halbritter from his claimed position as sole leader of the Nation and representative to the U.S. government. The Oneida members requested an injunction ordering federal agencies to recognize the removal of Halbritter and to rescind any agreement made by Halbritter after his removal. The members also demanded an accounting of all its proceeds from 1987 to the present and an injunction that would prevent Halbritter from expending any Nation funds. Lastly, the suit asserted that the federal agency violated their civil rights guaranteed under the Indian Civil Rights Act.

The Oneida Nation was formed circa 1000 A.D., when the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora tribes endorsed the Great Law of Peace. This agreement contained political, social, and cultural principles, which governed the process of decision-making and processes. The Oneida Nation claimed that the government run by Halbritter did not follow any of the principles of the Great Law of Peace and violated their civil rights.

In April 1997, the district court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims on the ground that they had not shown severe restraints on their liberties. The court also dismissed each of the plaintiffs’ remaining seven claims on the ground that the Oneida Nation itself was not a plaintiff. On February 5, 1998, CCR argued an appeal before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

On October 6, 1998, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that an initial determination on the matter of Halbritter’s status was required before the Department of Interior undertook any action concerning the Oneida Nation, given the Nation’s removal of Halbritter from any and all leadership positions in 1995.