The Supreme Court provided Native Americans with some long overdue justice when they ruled on Thursday that nearly half the state of Oklahoma belongs to the original inhabitants. It’s a huge win for the state’s tribes. SCOTUS split 5-4 to rule “that the disputed area covering roughly half of the state and most of the city of Tulsa” belongs to the Muscogee Nation, commonly referred to as the Creek tribe, and other local tribes. White folks won’t be evicted anytime soon but the ruling means the state will lose the authority to do law enforcement and more importantly, collect taxes.
Justice Gorsuch sides with the tribe
One of President Donald Trump’s conservative appointees, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined the liberal wing of the highest court to rule on a challenge to the state’s authority to prosecute crimes on reservation land.
“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law,” Justice Gorsuch wrote for the majority. “Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.” It’s a miracle.
What this means in practical terms is that the State’s authority over the land is null and void. The state cannot prosecute “tribal members who are accused of crimes on the reservation.” The part that really stings Oklahoma officials is the fact “Oklahoma may no longer be able to tax those who reside on the Creek’s land.” There’s an awful lot of land marked off for the tribe. Karmic justice at it’s best.
Roberts laments the ‘significant uncertainty’
Chief Justice Roberts wrote up a dissenting opinion for the minority. It was a close decision but Gorsuch didn’t buy their argument that fear of the unknown would cancel out contractual obligations. As Roberts wrote for the opposition, “the decision today creates significant uncertainty for the State’s continuing authority over any area that touches Indian affairs, ranging from zoning and taxation to family and environmental law. None of this is warranted.”
The tribe is thrilled with the ruling for real justice. “The Supreme Court today kept the United States’ sacred promise to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of a protected reservation,” their formal statement reads. “Today’s decision will allow the Nation to honor our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries. We will continue to work with federal and state law enforcement agencies to ensure that public safety will be maintained throughout the territorial boundaries of the Muscogee Nation.”
There was a huge argument over whether the disputed territory had ever been a “reservation” in the first place, and if it was it was “dissolved long ago.” Justice Gorsuch explains that “it takes an act of Congress to dissolve a reservation and there’s no evidence that it did that with the Creek’s land.” So, it’s still theirs.
“Mustering the broad social consensus required to pass new legislation is a deliberately hard business under our Constitution. Faced with this daunting task, Congress sometimes might wish an inconvenient reservation would simply disappear,” Justice Gorsuch wrote. “But wishes don’t make for laws, and saving the political branches the embarrassment of disestablishing a reservation is not one of our constitutionally assigned prerogatives.”