//Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Significant Portion Of Oklahoma Is Indian Land

Supreme Court Rules 5-4 Significant Portion Of Oklahoma Is Indian Land

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Thursday that a substantial portion of Oklahoma, roughly 19 million acres in total including Tulsa, officially still belongs to Native American tribes because Congress never officially declared that it no longer did.

“The federal government promised the Creek a reservation in perpetuity,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority. “Over time, Congress has diminished that reservation. It has sometimes restricted and other times expanded the Tribe’s authority. But Congress has never withdrawn the promised reservation.”

“As a result, many of the arguments before us today follow a sadly familiar pattern. Yes, promises were made, but the price of keeping them has become too great, so now we should just cast a blind eye. We reject that thinking. If Congress wishes to withdraw its promises, it must say so,” reads the decision.

Gorsuch wrote that to rule “otherwise would be to elevate the most brazen and longstanding injustices over the law.”

According to The New York Times, the case was brought to the Supreme Court after Jimcy McGirt, a Native American man who was convicted of sex crimes against a child in state court, argued that his conviction should be overturned, and that he be tried in federal court instead, because he committed his alleged crimes on Indian land.

The Washington Post reports that the court’s ruling also addressed a similar case — from which Gorsuch had recused himself because he heard it as an appeals court judge — overturning the conviction of Patrick Murphy, a Native American man who was sentenced to death for the murder of another Native American man nearly 20 years ago.

Like McGirt, Murphy argued that he had been wrongly tried in Oklahoma state court, reports ABA Journal.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who was left unconvinced with the majority ruling, wrote for the minority in a dissenting opinion that the court had purportedly discovered, “unbeknownst to anyone for the past century, a huge swathe of Oklahoma is actually a Creek Indian reservation.”

“Across this vast area, the State’s ability to prosecute serious crimes will be hobbled and decades of past convictions could well be thrown out. On top of that, the Court has profoundly destabilized the governance of eastern Oklahoma,” wrote Roberts, remarking that the ruling created “significant” legal uncertainty “over any area that touches Indian affairs.”

After the Supreme Court released its ruling, a group of Native American nations issued a joint statement with Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter saying they were committed to “resolving any significant jurisdictional issues” that result from the ruling.

“The Nations 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. We have a shared commitment to maintaining public safety and long-term economic prosperity for the Nations and Oklahoma,” reads the joint statement.

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