Oklahoma Leaders Focus On Path Forward After SCOTUS Tribal Jurisdiction Ruling

Thursday, July 9th 2020, 9:33 pm
By: Erick Payne

TULSA, Okla. -

Legal experts called Thursday’s Supreme Court decision on tribal jurisdictions "the most important decision from the Supreme Court affecting Oklahoma in our state's history."

Now, Oklahoma's leaders and tribal officials are working out a plan for what the decision means for criminal justice in Oklahoma.

Leaders for the Five Tribes said in a joint statement they're making progress on an agreement, which they'll present to Congress and the Department of Justice.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision focused on Jimcy McGirt. He's a Creek Indian who argued his 1997 child rape conviction should be thrown out, because it happened on Native American land, and because federal law said major crimes on reservations must be prosecuted in federal court.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in the ruling for McGirt. Gorsuch wrote, "on the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise. Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the West would be secure forever." He adds that today, "we hold the government to its word."

"Today's a great day for Indian Country. I agree with Justice Gorsuch's opinion that the government of the United States should be held to its treaty obligations, that the United States must keep its word," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said.

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the ruling recognizes the reservations and governments of the Muscogee Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole Nations were never diminished or dissolved. The nations said they're working on a framework of shared jurisdiction.

"The ruling does not mean that those who commit crimes on reservation lands won't face justice. There's no tribe that would welcome that, certainly the Cherokee Nation wouldn't welcome that," Hoskin Jr. said.

Governor Kevin Stitt said it will have implications on some criminal cases in Oklahoma, but they're still going through the details.

"This is a federal issue, it's something that Congress needs to address to put some parameters on how we're supposed to deal with this," Stitt said.

Those five tribal nations also said they, and the state, "are committed to ensuring that Jimcy McGirt, Patrick Murphy, and all other offenders face justice for the crimes for which they are accused."

They said, "We have a shared commitment to maintaining public safety and long-term economic prosperity for the Nations and Oklahoma."