Supreme Court rules in favor of Oklahoma’s ability to prosecute Native American tribal members who commit crimes on ‘Indian country’

The United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Oklahoma state’s right to prosecute non-American Indians who have committed crimes against Native American tribal members on land known legally as “Indian country.”

The majority opinion for the court’s 5-4 decision was written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh and found that the federal government and Oklahoma have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Native Americans against American Indians, according to The Washington Examiner.

Following the 2020 Supreme Court judgment in McGirt v. Oklahoma, only tribes and the federal government were left with prosecuting authority in a sizable section of eastern Oklahoma for crimes committed by or against tribal citizens.

“We conclude that the Federal Government and the State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country,” Kavanaugh wrote for the majority.

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt praised the decision saying the ruling is a “clear victory for all four million Oklahomans.”

Fellow conservative and Trump appointee Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented along with liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan, saying
“One can only hope the political branches and future courts will do their duty to honor this Nation’s promises even as we have failed today to do our own,” Gorsuch wrote, expressing outrage with Kavanaugh’s majority opinion.

“If the Court’s ruling today sounds like a legislative committee report touting the benefits of some newly proposed bill, that’s because it is exactly that … The Court’s decision is not a judicial interpretation of the law’s meaning; it is the pastiche of a legislative process.”

The case revolved mostly around Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta, 36, who was found guilty of neglecting his legally blind, 5-year-old stepdaughter who has cerebral palsy. He received a 35-year prison term. The Supreme Court’s 2020 decision, according to a state court, denied Oklahoma authorities jurisdiction over Castro-case, Huerta’s and therefore the court overturned his conviction.

By arguing that McGirt does not apply to Castro-Huerta’s prior conviction because the 5-year-old defendant was Native, the high court is now limiting the effects of the 2020 decision.