The Nagle article used pretty dramatic language to discuss the impact of the Standing Bear decision—for example that Judge Dundy “eradicated the key ingredient of the plenary power doctrine” and “deconstructed the racist elements” on which it was based—but I don’t feel like she addressed a lot of issues in her comparison between Standing Bear and Brown v. Board of Education. A big one is that Standing Bear was decided at a district level and the case never made it to higher courts. It seems that although Standing Bear and General Crook were positioned against each other in court, they were essentially of the same opinion on the Ponca arrests, and without dispute the case would never make it up to higher courts. From the background material document, it seems that the case didn’t even end up weighing into changes in law or local justice. Of course this doesn’t mean that the Standing Bear ruling was not significant, but the comparison of Standing Bear’s legacy versus Lone Wolf’s was confusing to me because the cases were not handled on an equal scale. It’s not fitting then that Nagle uses Standing Bear to try to talk about the development or consistency of the Supreme Court, but it is still an important case to consider in the overall development of Indian policy.
I also don’t think it is clear from records of the decision that Judge Dundy was trying to make a racial statement, as Nagle tries to argue. On page 484 Nagle says the Standing Bear court “rejected the plenary power doctrine…concluding that a doctrine designed to make one race inferior to another had no place in the Constitution.” But there is no evidence that Dundy found Indians to be an equal race, just that he acknowledges that an Indian is a person. A child is a person too, but is dependent on an adult and has fewer rights. Nagle seems to be pretty dramatically romanticizing the ruling. However, if Dundy’s idea that Indians are included when U.S. law applies to a “person” were extended beyond this specific case, it would have radically changed the way the Constitution and contemporary law were being read and utilized. For example, by the way U.S. citizenship is determined, Indian children being born within U.S. borders would automatically be citizens, and this isn’t something intended or interpreted by any court at the time.