Muskrat v. United States

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Muskrat v. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 30, 1910
Decided January 23, 1911
Full case name David Muskrat and J. Henry Dick v. United States
Citations 219 U.S. 346 (more)
31 S. Ct. 250; 55 L. Ed. 246; 1911 U.S. LEXIS 1641
Prior history Dismissed, 44 Ct. Cl. 137 (1909)
Subsequent history None
Article III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of the Court to actual controversies between adverse parties; there is no controversy or adversity where an interested party colludes with a disinterested party to bring the suit solely for the purpose of determining the constitutionality of a particular act of Congress. Court of Claims affirmed.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Edward D. White
Associate Justices
John M. Harlan · Joseph McKenna
Oliver W. Holmes, Jr. · William R. Day
Horace H. Lurton · Charles E. Hughes
Willis Van Devanter · Joseph R. Lamar
Case opinions
Majority Day, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
U.S. Const. art. III

Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346 (1911),[1] is a case that appears in virtually every constitutional law casebook published, because of its delineation of the authority of United States federal courts to hear certain kinds of cases.


In this case, Congress passed a statute permitting certain Native Americans to bring suits against the United States to determine the constitutionality of a law allocating tribal lands, and providing that Counsel for both sides were to be paid from the United States Treasury. Several cases were brought pursuant to this statute, including suits brought by David Muskrat and J. Henry Dick opposing the partition of Indian lands, and by another pair, William Brown and Levi B. Gritts, opposing a prohibition against the sale of certain Indian lands.


The United States Supreme Court refused to allow the case to be heard, maintaining that, though the United States was named as a defendant, the case in question was not an actual controversy: rather, the statute was merely devised to test the constitutionality of a certain type of legislation, and the Court's ruling would be nothing more than an advisory opinion; therefore, it dismissed the suit for failing to present a "case or controversy", as required by Article III of the United States Constitution.

Later developments[edit]

Although this decision remains good law, its importance has been diminished by the Supreme Court's approval of the declaratory judgment act, which permits a party to seek a declaration of rights against another party, even where no affirmative relief (e.g. damages or an injunction) is being sought. In a declaratory judgment action, if under the facts as proved, there is some possibility of a future need for relief as among the parties, a declaratory judgment may be entered.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 219 U.S. 346 (Text of the opinion on

External links[edit]