Supreme Court Rules That Eastern Half Of Oklahoma Is Native American Land

Jeff Kubina / Public Domain

JakeThomas

Justice Neil Gorsuch was joined by the court's four liberal justices in the 5-4 decision.

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a huge portion of Oklahoma “is Native American land for certain purposes, siding with a Native American man who had challenged his rape conviction by state authorities in the territory,” CNBC reported.

  • Conservative Justice Neil Gorush delivered the opinion for the 5-4 decision, which “endorsed the claim of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation to the land, which encompasses 3 million acres in eastern Oklahoma, including most of the city of Tulsa.”
  • The news outlet reported that this means federal authorities, rather than state authorities, “can lodge charges against Native Americans who commit serious alleged crimes on that land, which is home to 1.8 million people.” The report added that “15% or fewer are Native Americans.”

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law,” Gorsuch wrote.

“Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,” he wrote.

  • Gorsuch was joined by the court’s four liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, while conservatives Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh dissented.

The state argued that the land claimed by Creek Nation was not in fact a reservation and said if the Supreme Court accepted it as such, it would “cause the largest judicial abrogation of state sovereignty in American history, cleaving Oklahoma in half.”

Gorsuch rejected the argument:

“Under our Constitution, States have no authority to reduce federal reservations lying within their borders. Just imagine if they did,” he wrote.

“A State could encroach on the tribal boundaries or legal rights Congress provided, and, with enough time and patience, nullify the promises made in the name of the United States. That would be at odds with the Constitution, which entrusts Congress with the authority to regulate commerce with Native Americans, and directs that federal treaties and statutes are the ‘supreme Law of the Land,’” he wrote.

Gorsuch added that if that happened, “It would also leave tribal rights in the hands of the very neighbors who might be least inclined to respect them.”

Read the full report.

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