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  • The dark red area stands for the territory in which Oklahoma courts have no jurisdiction.

    The dark red area stands for the territory in which Oklahoma courts have no jurisdiction. | Photo: Twitter/ @TomMcMahanDade

Published 9 July 2020
Opinion

This is the second time a case about eastern Oklahoma's legal status reaches the Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday ruled that almost half of the Oklahoma state is a Native American reservation before the criminal justice system. So the state's authorities do not have the power to process cases involving Native Americans.

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The decision is one of the most important legal victories for this group in decades. It was written by conservative judge Neil Gorsuch and it obtained five votes in favor and four against.

"Today we are asked whether the land promised by these treaties remains a reserve for the purposes of federal criminal law," Gorsuch said. "Due to the Congress has not said otherwise, we keep the government's word."

Jimmy McGisrt's case has reached the highest court in the country. The Oklahoma state authorities convicted him in a case of sexual abuse of a four-year-old boy, which occurred within the tribe's historical boundaries.

McGirt alleged that he could only have been prosecuted by federal authorities and the Congress had never denied his tribe's sovereignty over that territory, which covers nearly half of Oklahoma. While the state's Attorney General said that such an area had never been a reservation.

This resolution assumes that only federal authorities can file charges against Native Americans who commit serious crimes in that territory, where 1.8 million people live.

This is the second time that a case about eastern Oklahoma's legal status has reached the Supreme Court.

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