The concept of tribal sovereignty frequently conflicts with that of congressional plenary power, depending on the definition and basis of plenary power. Analysis of 107 federal court cases between 1886 and 1914 suggests that when plenary power is seen in terms of preemption and exclusivity, it may help to protect tribal sovereignty from private or state incursions. However, if plenary power is defined as absolute and unlimited, tribal rights are not constitutionally protected against federal actions. Although tribes are properly regarded as extra-constitutional entities, they are often treated as inferior in relation to Congress by the courts.

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Copyright © 1994 University of Nebraska Press. This article first appeared in The American Indian Quarterly (June 1994), 349-368.

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