Tribal sovereignty only goes so far, Supreme Court says

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the State of Oklahoma can prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians on tribally owned land.

“We conclude that the Federal Government and the State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country,” wrote Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Three other conservative members of the court joined him in the decision: Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Amy Coney Barrett.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, usually considered conservative, joined the three liberal justices in a dissent; the ruling was 5-4.

The case involves a non-tribal man who was tried and convicted by the state of Oklahoma on charges of child neglect of his stepdaughter, who is part Cherokee and living on reservation land. The man challenged the conviction, saying only the federal government can bring charges against him, not the State of Oklahoma, because the crime occurred on tribal land.

This Supreme Court ruling sides with the State of Oklahoma, and carves out exceptions for tribal sovereignty from a 2020 decision, McGirt v. Oklahoma.

The ruling in McGirt said that eastern Oklahoma is “Indian Country,” where state and local authorities have no ability to prosecute for crimes committed on Indian Country land.

That decision said only the federal government and tribes can prosecute Indians country crimes. The decision in McGirt was based on the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790, in which Congress federalized all aspects of Indian affairs.

Another previous case, Worcester v. Georgia, also said in 1832 that states have no ability to enact laws in Indian Country without permission of Congress.

In Wednesday’s ruling, the court reversed the presumption against a state’s law enforcement jurisdiction. Without Congress taking further action to expand tribal sovereignty, states can now prosecute non-tribal members for all crimes committed in Indian country. 

12 COMMENTS

  1. It’s about damn time!
    They cannot be allowed to kick their own out onto the rest of society, while enforcement not having the authority to investigate child trafficking and other horrendous crimes going on in the villages.
    The people of Alaska deserve accountability for people that dump their own people off onto other places.
    Bull crap at the corporations and villages get away with that. Like who’s selling children in these native villages? It has to be someone or some people. Or who is abducting them?
    Why is it so hush hush?

    • I don’t think this ruling affects Alaska Natives. I think they are talking about reservations. Don’t the AST investigate crimes in villages? Same reason there are no “Indian Casinos.” I might be wrong.

  2. Please forgive me I did not finish my last reply but we are still number one in the State per capita on child trafficking. If you don’t believe me look it up. We need to find out who’s doing this. And do whatever with the people that are caught doing it.

  3. I would be careful applying this decision to Native land in Alaska – ANCSA is a whole ‘nother set of parameters.

  4. Some years ago the Supreme Court, with some of these same members, ruled there is no Indian Country in Alaska!

  5. Most reservations have their own police departments and many are accredited so they can perform law enforcement duties on and off the reservation. Same for the agencies outside the reservations so in exigent circumstances they can cross lines of jurisdiction. This should all be fully legal.

  6. In 1953 Congress enacted P.L. 83-280…In 1958, Alaska was made a mandatory P.L. 280 state. Alaska Attorney General Michael Geraghty said that the state intervened on Parks’ side to protect Parks’ constitutional rights… ADN 8/25/2013. Are all tribal citizen’s U.S. Constitutional rights protected by the Alaska AG? If yes, is the Alaska AG then responsible to intervene on behalf of a tribal citizen? There are 229 tribes in Alaska and each tribal government is different. The federal government gave jurisdiction to the State of Alaska regarding crimes committed in Indian country…PL 280. Are Alaska law enforcement agencies funded properly to ensure protection and equality for each Alaskan? All judges and law enforcement officers should always uphold the law, and treat every individual with respect and fairness, and speak the truth. I’ve been writing to Senator Murkowski since 2011 when I discovered constitutional, civil and criminal violations were happening within a tribal government entity and small city/village.
    A crystal clear roadmap in Alaska must be established to ensure that every Alaskan’s constitutional, criminal and civil rights are protected.
    US Attorney General Rachael Rollins for the District of Massachusetts has just recently been selected to serve as Vice-Chair of the Civil Rights Subcommittee for the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC). The Chair, US Attorney Nick Brown for the Western District of Washington can maybe answer your questions. Write him a letter. Alaska needs guidance from the Department of Justice to fulfill the promise of equality for everyone. The Anti-Discrimination Act passed on February 8, 1945 in all of Alaska.
    Alaskan voters, it’s time to vote for a Congressman and U.S. Senator that will speak up for all Alaskans within the State, and take a stand against corruption in our State. It’s time to vote for an Alaska Constitutional Convention. There should be equality and justice for all throughout the whole State. No person(s) or tribal government entity should be allowed to cover-up criminal or violations of one’s civil rights protections because of sovereignty. We must speak up and say STOP to all these injustices.
    The retaliation (loss of a job, protection of their children and/or grandchildren) that is happening to individuals who are speaking up should never be allowed to happen because of sovereignty or a judge not following the best interest of a child, domestic violence and other laws and policies that are written to keep whole families together.
    Alaska’s Congressional Team needs to go to Congress in 2023 and close the legal loopholes to ensure that a roadmap exists to protect equality and justice for all the people in Alaska.

  7. Looking forward to the end of monarch’s over reach stare decises in admirality law trespassing the oceans, docks, and onto continental land itself; and welcome the advent of AMERICAN (not British) LAND law as we the people are entitled to have: justice that is common (not royal), good and right for all man.

  8. Well! Now tribal members of reservations can
    finally recieve better security against narcissistic abusive non
    tribal member ex when their stauking, harassing, threats, retailiation can recieve punishments. This ruling
    will help some women protecting them better from bad mistakes they made , even help some women weaponize it for selfish intent over weak men. This why
    proverbs 5 and
    psalm 10 warns us stay away from the immoral man or immoral woman.

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