High court could limit 2020 tribal land decision in Oklahoma

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The Supreme Court agreed Friday to consider limiting a recent decision about Native American land in Oklahoma that the state says has produced chaos in its courts.

The justices said they would take up a question to clarify whether the state can prosecute non-Native Americans for crimes committed against Natives in a large portion of eastern Oklahoma that the high court ruled in 2020 remains a tribal reservation.

The case will be argued in April, the court said.

But the justices did not agree to the state’s request that the court consider overruling the 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma altogether.

The Supreme Court does not typically reconsider its decisions so soon.

But the state argued that crimes are going uninvestigated and unprosecuted because federal authorities — who can bring criminal cases from tribal land when the suspect, victim or both are Native American — are overwhelmed.

“No recent decision of this Court has had a more immediate and destabilizing effect on life in an American state than McGirt v. Oklahoma,” the state wrote in urging the justices to step in.

As a result of the McGirt ruling, Oklahoma lost the authority to prosecute Native Americans for crimes committed in parts of Oklahoma that include most of Tulsa, the state’s second-largest city.

Courts in Oklahoma have since extended the decision to apply to crimes committed by or against Native Americans on tribal reservations.

The Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and other tribes have argued that only Congress can grant states the authority to prosecute non-Natives for crimes against Native Americans on tribal land.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt applauded the court’s decision to get involved at all.

“The fallout of the McGirt decision has been destructive. Criminals have used this decision to commit crimes without punishment,” Still said in a statement. “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.”

Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said his tribe “celebrates the Supreme Court’s rejection of a blatantly political request to overturn its McGirt decision.”

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