States can prosecute non tribe members on reservatiions

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30 Jun 2022, 10:54 am

States can prosecute non-tribal members who commit crimes on Native American reservations, Supreme Court says

The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that states have the authority to prosecute non-tribal members who commit crimes against Native Americans on Indian territory.

The ruling limits a major tribal ruling issued by the Supreme Court in 2020 and cuts back on tribal sovereignty.

Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt praised the court's opinion, calling it a "pivotal moment" in a statement.

Stitt has been fighting for state sovereignty on the issue and had expressed fear that if his side were to lose, it could open an avenue for individuals to gain access to abortion on tribal lands, as a way of sidestepping the state's strict abortion rules.

"We think that there's a possibility that some tribes may try to set up abortion on demand," he said in an interview with KTUL before the opinion came down. "They think that you could be 1/1000 tribal member and not have to follow the state law. And so that's something that we're watching."

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote the majority opinion in the case Wednesday, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Amy Coney Barrett. He said that the Constitution "allows a State to exercise jurisdiction in Indian country."

Indian country is part of the State, not separate from the State," Kavanaugh wrote.
Kavanaugh nodded to a controversial 2020 decision called McGirt v. Oklahoma, where the court held that Congress had never formally disestablished the Creek Reservation and therefore a large swath of eastern Oklahoma should be considered Indian territory.
That opinion was penned by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by the court's liberals, who dissented from Wednesday's decision.

McGirt had spawned chaos and uncertainty in Oklahoma and raised urgent questions concerning the scope of a state's jurisdiction on Indian land. State courts began reversing numerous convictions holding that Oklahoma had no jurisdiction.

Gorsuch, now in dissent with Barrett siding with the conservatives, blasted the majority decision. In a dissent filled with references to Native American history, Gorsuch charged that the majority had allowed "Oklahoma to intrude on a feature of tribal sovereignty recognized since the founding."

"One can only hope the political branches and future courts will do their duty to honor this Nation's promises even as we have failed today to do our own," he said.

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