Supreme Court Reconsiders Parts of Oklahoma Indian Territory Ruling

  

Category:  News & Politics

Via:  vic-eldred  •  4 weeks ago  •  9 comments

By:   Jess Bravin and Sadie Gurman (WSJ)

Supreme Court Reconsiders Parts of Oklahoma Indian Territory Ruling
The 2020 decision moved broad swaths of the state under federal jurisdiction, drawing an outcry from state officials

S E E D E D   C O N T E N T



WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court on Wednesday weighed whether to claw back part of its 2020 decision recognizing nearly half of Oklahoma as Indian country, a legal distinction that prompted outcry from state officials and transferred many criminal cases from state courts to federal jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court rejected Oklahoma's request to consider overruling the 2020 case, McGirt v. Oklahoma, outright. It agreed to consider the state's argument that under current federal law, where the U.S. Justice Department prosecutes crimes by or against Indians on Indian reservations, state courts retain parallel authority to prosecute non-Indians even when the victim is an Indian.

The state says it needs to recover that jurisdiction because the McGirt ruling has caused a criminal-justice crisis. Federal and tribal jurisdictions lack the capacity to handle a deluge of cases now under their responsibility, state officials say, and dozens of violent crimes have gone unpunished because federal statutes of limitation expired, witnesses died or evidence vanished.

Wednesday’s case could have implications nationwide. Should the court agree with Oklahoma, other states with Indian reservations could find themselves with authority for prosecuting crimes over swaths of territory that for generations have been the U.S. Justice Department’s sole responsibility.

The McGirt case was decided by a 5-4 vote, with dissenters arguing that, in admitting Oklahoma to the Union in 1907, Congress dissolved the reservations it had granted the Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and Seminole Nation of Oklahoma.

There was no indication Wednesday that any justice on either side had changed perspective. But there was a significant difference; the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had joined three other liberals behind Justice Neil Gorsuch’s McGirt opinion, has been succeeded by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, an appointee of former President  Donald Trump .

Wednesday’s case was the final argument of the 2021-22 term, and the curtain call for Justice Stephen Breyer, who has announced plans to retire after all decisions are delivered by early July. The Senate has confirmed a former Breyer law clerk, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, as his successor.

Justice Breyer treated Wednesday’s case as any other, asking several largely technical questions regarding the importance of past practice and the approach to federal jurisdiction.

The atmosphere grew poignant at the session’s close, when Chief Justice John Roberts, his voice breaking, noted the coming retirement. “For 28 years this has been his arena for remarks profound and moving, questions challenging and insightful, and hypotheticals downright silly,” he said, as Justice Breyer appeared to blush.

Early in Wednesday’s argument Justice Gorsuch, whose McGirt opinion unsparingly depicted Washington’s record of broken promises to Native American tribes, challenged Kannon Shanmugam, the lawyer presenting Oklahoma’s case.

What of “the history in this country of states abusing Indian victims in their courts?” Justice Gorsuch asked. He cited a 1795 letter in which President George Washington lamented that no jury of “white men” would convict one of their kind for murdering an Indian. “In the 1920s, Oklahoma systematically used its state courts to deprive Indians of their property when oil was discovered on their lands,” Justice Gorsuch said.

Mr. Shanmugam said “the tribal interest [is] the interest in punishing tribal offenders.” Previous cases, he said, have “not defined that interest more broadly as an interest in protecting victims.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh said a ruling for the state would benefit victims.

“Indian victims right now are not being protected because the federal government doesn’t have the resources to prosecute all these crimes,” he said. “This would not be displacing the federal government. It’s additional prosecutors to protect Indian victims against non-Indians.”

Wednesday’s case involved Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta, a non-Indian who was sentenced to 35 years by a Tulsa state court for criminal neglect of his five-year-old, disabled stepdaughter. A state appeals court threw out the conviction because the stepdaughter is an Indian. Citing the McGirt rule, the state court transferred the case to federal prosecutors who reached a plea bargain with Mr. Castro-Huerta: seven years in prison, followed by deportation to Mexico.

Mr. Castro-Huerta’s lawyer, Zachary Schauf, said Congress established the legal framework for Indian reservations to promote peace on the frontier in the 19th century.


“States at this point were Indians’ deadliest enemies, and I don’t think you put the fox in charge of the henhouse even if the fox only has concurrent jurisdiction,” he said.

Justice Clarence Thomas noted that in this case, the state court had more severely punished the non-Indian defendant than had federal proceedings.

“You can’t make that fox in the chicken house, or henhouse, argument there,” he said.

The Biden administration took the position that the state lacks authority over Indian country cases involving Indian victims. Justice Samuel Alito, calling the government’s legal arguments “awfully abstract,” asked whether the avalanche of cases in federal court was sustainable.

“I’m not here to minimize the challenge,” said the Justice Department’s attorney, Deputy Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler. The administration has requested an additional $40 million for new prosecutors, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, federal marshalls and to expand prison space. “Congress in its political responsibility, we trust, will appropriate that money,” he said.

Nationwide, some tribes have consented to state jurisdiction over certain crimes on their land, and Congress has granted prosecution authority to more than 10 states that sought such powers. But most states have been content to let federal authorities bear the responsibility—and expense—for law enforcement in Indian country.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested that ruling for Oklahoma could solve that state’s problem of unprosecuted crimes, but impose new burdens elsewhere. She called it “an unfunded mandate to 49 other states to take on a responsibility that they had a choice to take on and most of them didn’t want.”

The McGirt decision was a watershed of Indian law, enforcing 19th century treaties with five tribes that were relocated to the prairie after white settlers drove them from ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama. To this day, that journey is recalled as the Trail of Tears. It led to the legal recognition that 43% of Oklahoma, including much of Tulsa, is Indian country.

Although the vast majority of the area’s inhabitants aren’t Indians, and therefore remain under the state’s jurisdiction, the transfer of prosecution of Indian-related crimes in most of eastern Oklahoma upended the state’s justice system.

Suddenly, hundreds of crimes involving Native Americans could no longer be charged by state prosecutors or heard by state courts, saddling federal and tribal jurisdictions with a deluge of cases and sowing uncertainty for defendants and victims alike.

The FBI’s Oklahoma City field office became one of the agency’s busiest, borrowing scores of out-of-town agents versed in terrorism, counterintelligence and civil-rights investigations to work more like police detectives investigating shootings and beatings. Dozens of federal judges and prosecutors similarly moved to eastern Oklahoma and began taking on what Clint Johnson, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma, at the time called “a crushing onslaught of cases initially.”



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Vic Eldred
Professor Principal
1  seeder  Vic Eldred    4 weeks ago
The Biden administration took the position that the state lacks authority over Indian country cases involving Indian victims. Justice Samuel Alito, calling the government’s legal arguments “awfully abstract,” asked whether the avalanche of cases in federal court was sustainable.
 
 
 
Ronin2
Professor Quiet
2  Ronin2    4 weeks ago
Wednesday’s case involved Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta, a non-Indian who was sentenced to 35 years by a Tulsa state court for criminal neglect of his five-year-old, disabled stepdaughter. A state appeals court threw out the conviction because the stepdaughter is an Indian. Citing the McGirt rule, the state court transferred the case to federal prosecutors who reached a plea bargain with Mr. Castro-Huerta: seven years in prison, followed by deportation to Mexico.

So 35 years in prison for a non Native American defendant from the racist state judicial system; as compared to seven years and a free ride to the Mexican- and be right back in the US in no time sentence from those bastions of racial integrity at the Federal Judicial level.

The Biden administration is as inept as the man leading it. 

 
 
 
1stwarrior
Professor Guide
3  1stwarrior    4 weeks ago

So far, OK has lost 29 of the 30 cases involving turning over the McGirt decision.  They will lose this one also.

IF Castro-Huerta is going to be deported, that, to me, indicates that he is a non-citizen of the U.S.  As such, he should have been deported upon arrest.

 
 
 
Transyferous Rex
Freshman Quiet
3.1  Transyferous Rex  replied to  1stwarrior @3    4 weeks ago

I know a guy at the DOI. Thinks pretty highly of himself. After the Court asked for further briefing, I chatted with him about the potential impact of a ruling in favor of McGirt. He cavalierly advised that there was no way the Court would decide the case as it did, falling back on State's position of "this is how we've done it for 100 years." I read an article he wrote recently, informing on what the impact of the McGirt decision was. I'd say that was a bitter pill for him to swallow...but I'm sure his arrogant ass is now telling people he never doubted the tribe's claim. 

I never saw the state prevailing. The more interesting questions, to me, were what the impacts would be from a finding that nothing had been extinguished or disestablished. 

 
 
 
1stwarrior
Professor Guide
3.1.1  1stwarrior  replied to  Transyferous Rex @3.1    4 weeks ago

Have your friend read the attached - will definitely change his mind.

One of the best breakdown's of the case that I've seen/read.

 
 
 
Transyferous Rex
Freshman Quiet
3.1.2  Transyferous Rex  replied to  1stwarrior @3.1.1    3 weeks ago
...will definitely change his mind.

In the words of Wayne..."shaw, and monkeys might fly out of my butt."

My guy addressed the criminal impact, and gave some extremely brief lip service to the elephants in the room.

From Miller: Commensurately, Oklahoma’s jurisdiction and responsibilities are lessened and there might even be a tax savings to the state, but at the same time, the state’s tax base will be diminished. Political, societal, and governmental decisions will have to be made by all governments involved. One million Oklahomans, who are primarily non- Indians, now find themselves living on the MCN Reservation, including 400,000 in the city of Tulsa. Obviously, this fact will create legal and societal changes. These changes are already occurring and they require action by governments.

Dust hasn't settled, but the Oklahoma Tax Commission has estimated that the State would lose 70 mil+/-, annually in sales and income taxes. (assumes McGirt applies to all 5 tribes) Looking at an additional estimated in 230 mil in refunds to qualifying tribal members. 

 
 
 
1stwarrior
Professor Guide
3.1.3  1stwarrior  replied to  Transyferous Rex @3.1.2    3 weeks ago

And, the tribal/Nation members will expend their "non-tax" funds in non-tribal/nation businesses, so the funding is still there but from a different angle.

 
 
 
Ronin2
Professor Quiet
3.2  Ronin2  replied to  1stwarrior @3    4 weeks ago

He committed a crime on US soil. He can pay the penalty for it here. He deserves his prison sentence. I have no problem with deporting him afterwards. 35 years sounds a lot better than 7.

 
 
 
Kavika
Professor Principal
3.3  Kavika   replied to  1stwarrior @3    4 weeks ago
IF Castro-Huerta is going to be deported, that, to me, indicates that he is a non-citizen of the U.S.  As such, he should have been deported upon arrest.

If he was NA where in the hell would they deport him to, Arkansas? /s

 
 

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