US Supreme Court Hears Arguments Today on Whether Eastern Oklahoma is an Indian Reservation

May 11, 2020

Credit US Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments today in a case that has enormous implications for Oklahoma.

McGirt v. Oklahoma is the second case before the justices within the span of about 18 months that seeks to resolve whether eastern Oklahoma is still legally an Indian reservation and under the jurisdiction of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole nations,  a status that could upend decades of state criminal convictions of tribal citizens.

"It's important for the court to see the big picture here and respect what I believe is an incredibly positive and historically beneficial relationship between the tribes and the state," said Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.

Seminole citizen Jimcy McGirt was convicted of sex crimes in the late 1990s involving a 4-year-old Indian girl within the boundaries of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. He contends the Creek reservation was never disestablished, so he should have been federally prosecuted.

The issue is similar to Sharp v. Murphy, which the court heard in November 2018 but never resolved. Hunter said he’s approached these cases with the utmost respect for Oklahoma tribes.

"Before we appealed from the 10th Circuit decision, I wrote every Native American chief or chairman in the state and let them know that I was appealing the Murphy decision because I didn't feel as attorney general it was in the best interests of the state and the tribes collectively," Hunter said.

Justice Neil Gorsuch was on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals when it heard the Murphy case and recused himself when it came to the Supreme Court. The remaining justices were deadlocked 4–4.