The ruling also excluded the Cherokee Freedmen descendants from voting in the special run-off election for Principal Chief. In response, the Department of Housing and Urban Development froze $33 million in funds and the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Indian Affairs wrote a letter objecting to the ruling. Afterward, the Cherokee Nation, Freedmen descendants, and the U.S. government reached an agreement in federal court to allow the Freedmen descendants to vote in the special election.
Through several legal proceedings in United States and Cherokee Nation courts, the Freedmen descendants conducted litigation to regain their treaty rights and recognition as Cherokee Nation members. While the Cherokee Nation filed a complaint in federal court in early 2012, Freedmen descendants and the United States Department of the Interior filed separate counterclaims on July 2, 2012. The U.S. Court of Appeals upheld tribal sovereignty, but stated that the cases had to be combined due to the same parties being involved. On May 5, 2014 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, oral arguments were made in the first hearing on the merits of the case. On August 30, 2017, the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the Freedmen descendants and the U.S. Department of the Interior, granting the Freedmen descendants full rights to citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee Nation has accepted this decision, effectively ending the dispute.