SCOTUS Expands State Power Over Native Land in Okla.

SCOTUS Expands State Power Over Native Land in Okla.
Last updated Jun 30, 2022
Image credit: AP [via Al Jazeera]


  • On Wed., SCOTUS ruled 5-4 that Oklahoma can prosecute non-Native Americans for crimes committed on tribal land when the victim is Native American.
  • In 2015, Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta was charged by state authorities for neglect of his five-year-old stepdaughter, who is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. However, the conviction was rejected by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on the grounds that state courts didn't have jurisdiction in Native American territory.
  • In the dissenting opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch described the ruling as allowing "Oklahoma to intrude on a feature of tribal sovereignty recognized since the founding."
  • However, in the court's majority opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh stated that, while arguments limiting the jurisdiction of state authorities emphasize "the history of mistreatment of American Indians", such understandings don't "resolve the legal questions presented in this case."
  • Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt called the ruling a victory for "Oklahomans, the state of Oklahoma, and the rule of law."


Pro-establishment narrative

This decision is a big victory for the power of Oklahoma state, now able to prosecute non-Natives on Native American territory, and do justice in new jurisdictions. The ruling will also likely reduce the burden of federal prosecutors as the state of Oklahoma becomes able to charge and convict on Tribal land.

Establishment-critical narrative

This ruling is a disappointment for Native lawyers and advocates of Native American rights. The Court has failed in its duty to honor the traditional rights of Native Americans, undermined tribal sovereignty, and highlighted the tension between Oklahoma state and its indigenous members.

Establishment split



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