Swath of Oklahoma deemed tribal land
Some 3 million acres in eastern Oklahoma legally belong to “Indian country” for criminal prosecution, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in a 5-4 decision. Muscogee Nation member Jimcy McGirt appealed a 500-year prison sentence for child molestation by arguing the crime took place on land promised to the tribe in an 1832 treaty and was therefore outside the jurisdiction of state courts. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, agreed: “Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.” The rest of the conservative justices dissented.
What does this mean for Oklahoma? The state argued that ruling in favor of McGirt could upend hundreds of past convictions and make prosecutions more difficult in much of the state, including parts of Tulsa. Gorsuch acknowledged the difficulties but said the court’s job was to uphold the law: “We proceed well aware of the potential for cost and conflict around jurisdictional boundaries, especially ones that have gone unappreciated for so long.” McGirt could still face trial in federal court.
Dig deeper: Read my report in Compassion about how the pandemic has affected Native American tribes.
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