Supreme Court rules that roughly half of Oklahoma’s land belongs to Native Americans

Oklahoma could be facing some significant changes in the near future because of a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

In a 5-4 decision — with Justice Neil Gorsuch providing the swing vote — the court ruled that a massive area of Oklahoma land equivalent to about half of the entire state actually belongs to Native American tribes and falls under tribal jurisdiction, The Hill reported.

“We hold the government to its word”

While some pundits predicted a close ruling, most believed the victory would come down on the conservative side of the bench.

Instead, Gorsuch sided with the court’s progressives and wrote the case’s majority decision.

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law,” he argued, according to The Hill. “Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”

In effect, the ruling limits federal prosecution of crimes committed on these reservations.

“None of this is warranted”

Chief Justice John Roberts, for his part, addressed the potential impact of the decision, writing in a dissenting opinion that the state could lose substantial authority over what occurs within its borders.

“The decision today creates significant uncertainty for the State’s continuing authority over any area that touches Indian affairs, ranging from zoning and taxation to family and environmental law,” he wrote, as The Hill reported. “None of this is warranted.”

At the heart of the case was a rape that occurred on Creek Territory in Oklahoma. The suspect, Jimcy McGirt, was convicted and sentenced to 1,000 years behind bars on top of a life sentence, according to The Hill. He challenged the conviction, however, arguing that the crime took place on Native American land.

State and tribal leaders ensure the public that McGirt and other violent offenders will be held to account for their actions regardless of the latest Supreme Court ruling.

In response, Oklahoma officials held the position that the area had never been designated as a reservation and, even if it had been promised at some point in the past, any such agreement had long ago dissolved. Gorsuch wrote in his opinion that he based the decision on the fact that it takes an act of Congress to dissolve a reservation, which did not happen in this case.

Oklahoma and the Native American nations have agreed to petition Congress for a resolution to what is now an open question regarding jurisdiction. While the Supreme Court’s ruling might be the right one under present circumstances, this is an issue that needs to be addressed once and for all.

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