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Justices: OK Can Prosecute Non-Native Americans on Tribal Land

The Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma can prosecute non-Native Americans for crimes committed on tribal land when the victim is Native American, reports the Associated Press. The 5-4 decision on Wednesday cut back on the high court’s ruling two years ago that said a large chunk of eastern Oklahoma remains an American Indian reservation. The first decision left the state unable to prosecute Native Americans accused of crimes on tribal lands that include most of Tulsa, the state’s second-largest city with a 413,000 population. A state court ruled that the Supreme Court decision stripped the state of its ability to prosecute anyone for crimes committed on tribal land if either the victim or perpetrator is Native American.


That would have left the federal government with sole authority to prosecute such cases. Federal officials had acknowledged that they lack the resources to prosecute all the crimes that have fallen to them. The high court’s new ruling said the state also can step in when the victims are tribal members. “The State’s interest in protecting crime victims includes both Indian and non-Indian victims,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote for the court. After the 2020 decision, about 43 percent of Oklahoma is now considered Indian country, and the issue of the state’s ability to prosecute those crimes “has suddenly assumed immense importance,” Kavanaugh wrote. In a dissent joined by the court’s three liberal members, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that the decision “allows Oklahoma to intrude on a feature of tribal sovereignty recognized since the founding.” The case involved the Muscogee reservation, but later rulings upheld the historic reservations of other Native American tribes in Oklahoma, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Quapaw and Seminole nations.