Justice Neil Gorsuch pushed back against the state of Oklahoma’s arguments in a case that weighed whether the state has the authority to prosecute non-Native Americans who commit crimes against Native American citizens in eastern Oklahoma. In Wednesday’s oral arguments, Gorsuch said it’s been documented through treaties between tribal nations and the U.S. that the state would not have jurisdiction over these crimes.
“We have the treaties, which have been in existence promising this tribe, since before the Trail of Tears, that they would not be subject to state jurisdiction precisely because the states were known to be their enemies,” Gorsuch said.
The justice, underscoring past transgressions by the state of Oklahoma against the tribes, also noted how the state used its courts to deprive Native Americans of property rights when oil was discovered on their lands in the 1920s. The Supreme Court was weighing whether to limit the scope of its 2020 ruling in Oklahoma v. McGirt, which expanded tribal authority in certain criminal cases. The ruling also recognized much of eastern Oklahoma as Native American reservation land. Tribes in Oklahoma praised the ruling for recognizing their sovereignty. Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion.
Following the decision, Oklahoma leaders pressed the high court to revisit its decision, arguing that the ruling has created problems in its courts. Oklahoma’s appeal centered on the case of Victor Castro-Huerta, a non-Native man convicted of severely neglecting his 5-year-old stepdaughter, who is Native.