The U.S. Supreme Court. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

It’s finally here! The U.S. Supreme Court has narrowly sided with Indian Country in one of the most consequential cases in recent history.

By a vote of 5 to 4, the justices held that the state of Oklahoma lacks the authority to prosecute Indians for major crimes that occur within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The historic decision confirms that land promised to the tribe by treaty remains Indian Country.

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law,” Justice Neil Gorsuch writes for the majority. “Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”

As a result of the landmark ruling, two Indian defendants — Jimcy McGirt and Patrick Dwayne Murphy — must be tried in the federal, rather than state, system for crimes committed within the Creek Reservation.

McGirt, a citizen of the Seminole Nation, and Patrick Dwayne Murphy, a Creek citizen, are accused of serious, heinous crimes. But each was punished extremely harshly by the state of Oklahoma.

McGirt was sentenced to 500 years and life without a chance of parole. Murphy, meanwhile, was put on death row.

The two Indian men now face a different system at the federal level, should the U.S. Attorneys who work in Oklahoma prosecute their respective cases.

“As Oklahoma’s United States Attorneys, we are confident tribal, state, local, and federal law enforcement will work together to continue providing exceptional public safety under this new ruling by the United States Supreme Court,” Trent Shores from the Northern District, Brian Kuester from the Eastern District and Timothy Downing from the Western District said in a joint statement following the decision.

Joining Justice Neil Gorsuch in siding with the Indian defendants are Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor and Justice Elena Kagan.  With the exception of Gorsuch, who was nominated to the bench by Republican President Donald Trump, all are Democratic picks for the Supreme Court

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. wrote a dissenting opinion that was joined by Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas, with the exception of footnote related to criminal prosecutions in Oklahoma. Thomas wrote a separate dissent as well.

All four of the dissenting justices are Republican nominees. Kavanaugh was chosen by President Trump.

McGirt v. Oklahoma

Sharp v. Murphy


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