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Native American Resources in the Manuscript Division

The Supreme Court

Harris & Ewing, photographer. Douglas dons robes of Supreme Court Justice. April 17, 1939. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

The Manuscript Division holds the nation's largest collection of papers of Supreme Court justices. This page describes the collections of justices whose rulings on cases related to Native Americans are documented through their papers.

The 10 collections described below cover exactly 100 years of Supreme court history, from Justice Willis Van Devanter's nomination to the court in 1910 to Justice John Paul Stevens's retirement from the court in 2010. This century saw many landmark cases related to Native American sovereignty and federal-tribal relations, such as Menominee Tribe v. United States (1968). This case is documented in five of collections below, including papers from William O. Douglas (pictured right), who delivered the majority opinion.

Of the collections on this page, the William O. Douglas papers stand out for their extensiveness and evidence of support for Native American rights. Douglas, who grew up near the Yakama Indian Reservation in Washington state, sided with Native plaintiffs/defendants on 39 of 47 relevant Supreme Court Cases, many of which are documented in his papers.1 The collection also documents his non-judicial reading and writing on Native American issues, including a 1964 National Geographic article he wrote about the Inuvialuit of Banks Island in the Canadian Arctic.

The papers of Supreme Court Justices, especially for those serving in the mid-late 20th century, are very extensive. They document dozens upon dozens of cases related to Native Americans. For this reason, the descriptions below and their corresponding entries in the community name index only cover landmark cases.

Tip: Most of the collections listed below have detailed finding aids with folders corresponding to docket numbers, which can be used to quickly search whether a collection has materials related to a particular case.


The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.


  1. Robert H. Keller Jr. "William O. Douglas, the Supreme Court, and American Indians". American Indian Law Review, Vol. 3, No. 2, 1975. Back to text