Starting in the 1940s, American Indians living on reservations in Arizona and New Mexico used the Social Security Act of 1935 to assert unprecedented claims within the American federal system: as U.S. and state citizens, they claimed federally subsidized state welfare payments, but as members of sovereign nations, they denied states the jurisdiction that historically accompanied such beneficence. This article documents their campaign, and the fierce resistance it provoked, by tracing two legal episodes. In 1948, through savvy use of both agencies and courts, and with aid from former government lawyer Felix Cohen, reservation Indians won welfare benefits and avoided accompanying demands for state jurisdiction; the states, in turn, extracted a price--higher subsidies--from the federal government. Arizona officials re-opened the dispute in 1951, by crafting a new welfare program that excluded reservation Indians and suing the federal government for refusing to support it. The 1954 dismissal of the case was a victory for Indians, but also leant urgency to efforts to terminate their anomalous status. Together these episodes illustrate the disruptive citizenship claims that became possible in the wake of the New Deal and World War Two, as well as the increasingly tense federal-state negotiations that followed.Subscribers may access the full article here.
I learned a lot from the process of writing and publishing this particular piece--about the value of workshopping, the difficulty of disentangling American federalism from race, and the challenges of bringing together disparate historical literatures--so expect a few more posts down the line. Until then, thanks to the many, many folks who made this article possible.