SCOTUS Will Revisit Aspect of 2020 Native American Land Decision in Oklahoma

by Jennifer Shea
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In the 2020 Supreme Court decision McGirt v. Oklahoma, SCOTUS ruled that the state of Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction to prosecute Jimcy McGirt. McGirt was later found guilty of aggravated sexual abuse of a 4-year-old child.

Instead, the court held that the historical Creek territory where the abuse happened was Indian country for the purposes of the Major Crimes Act. And it said that the federal government has exclusive authority to prosecute crimes there.

Oklahoma officials say the ruling, which applies to most of Tulsa, the state’s second-largest city, has hamstrung law enforcement in the state. According to KOSU, they barraged SCOTUS with 45 petitions asking it to overturn or narrow McGirt.

Now SCOTUS has agreed to hear one of those petitions. It concerns Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta, a non-Native American who allegedly committed gruesome neglect of his disabled 5-year-old Native American stepdaughter.

The broader McGirt ruling will stand. But the court will now decide whether the state has the right to prosecute non-Indians who commit felony crimes against Native people on reservation land.

Oklahoma Officials Welcome SCOTUS Hearing

Since the McGirt decision, Oklahoma courts have found that other reservations are similarly intact. That applies to the Seminole Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation, Cherokee Nation and Quapaw Nation. And therefore the state cannot prosecute crimes in those jurisdictions.

“The fallout of the McGirt decision has been destructive. Criminals have used this decision to commit crimes without punishment,” Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said in a statement, per the Associated Press. “Victims of crime, especially Native victims, have suffered by being forced to relive their worst nightmare in a second trial or having justice elude them completely.”

However, tribal leaders say they want Stitt to accept the McGirt decision from SCOTUS. And they urge him to let the tribal nations’ criminal justice systems handle things. They have further accused the governor of waging a “fight against tribal sovereignty.”

“We hope he will consider joining tribes, rather than undermining our efforts,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the new petition. He said it’s a start.

“Narrowing the scope of this case will not alleviate all of McGirt’s harmful consequences in our State. But it would ensure that non-Indians can be prosecuted under the same rules as perpetrators who victimize non-Indians,” O’Connor said in his own statement. “More importantly, it will guarantee Indian victims the same protection and justice that all other Oklahomans enjoy.”

The justices will hear the case in April. SCOTUS does not usually reconsider its own rulings so quickly. But Oklahoma has made the case that criminals are getting away with serious crimes because the caseload has overwhelmed federal authorities.

Outsider.com