Published on: Thursday, June 30, 2022

In a 5-4 vote, the supreme court ruled Wednesday in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, No. 21-429 (S. Ct. June 29, 2022) that the state of Oklahoma has concurrent jurisdiction and the ability to prosecute non-Natives when the victim is Native and the crime is committed on tribal land, effectively undermining centuries of legal precedent by expanding the power of states (article available here).

Oklahoma challenged the McGirt decision. Wednesday’s ruling did not invalidate the McGirt decision, but the Supreme Court narrowed it by finding that state authorities, not just in Oklahoma but also across the country, have authority alongside tribal and federal governments. That ruling, in 2020, found that the state did not have the authority to prosecute violent crimes by or against Native Americans that happened on those tribes’ lands, because they fell under the jurisdiction of the federal and tribal governments.

The court’s majority opinion, written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, found that, “As a matter of state sovereignty, a State has jurisdiction over all of its territory, including Indian country.”

The Muscogee Nation called Wednesday's ruling an “alarming step backward.” Similarly, Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the court folded to what amounted to a social media campaign by the state and ruled against legal precedent, congressional authority and federal Indian law.

“Where our predecessors refused to participate in one State’s unlawful power grab at the expense of the Cherokee, today’s Court accedes to another’s,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in a scathing dissent joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.