O’Connor and the Doctrine of Discovery, part 2

In 1493, to make sure that Spain could lay claim to any lands discovered by Christopher Columbus, Pope Alexander VI issued the “Doctrine of Discovery.” It stated that any non-Christian land “discovered” by Christians belonged to the country of origin of the discoverer.

In the view of that doctrine, any non-Christians already living there were not really human. Therefore they didn’t have rights to own the land — any more than indigenous wolves or deer had such rights.

In 1823 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision written by Chief Justice John Marshall, used the Doctrine of Discovery as the legal basis of an important decision. It ruled that Native Americans have no right to own the land they were already on before the Christians came over from Europe and took over. They did indeed have the right to live there, but habitation does not imply ownership.

In 1988 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, essentially affirmed this precedent. The court ruled that the U.S. Government has an absolute right of ownership of Federal Land. Native Americans are allowed to live on Federal Land, but they cannot contest any decision the U.S. Government makes about what to do with that land, no matter how much hardship that decision causes to the land’s Native American inhabitants.

This is an important and little talked about part of the legacy of the recently deceased Supreme Court Justice. Effectively, she affirmed that the 1493 decree of Pope Alexander VI is enshrined in United States Law.

In short: We Christians came over and took your land and now it’s ours. And you can’t have it back, ever. Why? Because this is a Christian nation — circulus in probando.

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