OKLAHOMA CITY – On Friday, Attorney General John O’Connor filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, asking it to overturn the 2020 McGirt ruling that the state does not have jurisdiction to prosecute major crimes committed by Native Americans in Eastern Oklahoma.
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. weighed in immediately, pointing out the court decision only affirmed what the U.S. promised through treaty, and accusing the AG of trying to undermine cooperative efforts.
The petition asks the court to narrow any application of the McGirt decision, including allowing the state to continue to imprison violent felons convicted before the McGirt ruling. It asks the court to affirm the state’s authority to prosecute non-Native Americans who commit crimes against Native Americans in the former Muscogee (Creek) reservation.
O’Connor claims that the McGirt decision is “recklessly overbroad” and has thrown Oklahomans into danger of having no law enforcement to respond to a call for help.
“Victims of atrocious crimes are being revictimized by going through the legal process a second time, and, in some instances, seeing their loved one’s killer set free because federal prosecutors cannot file the claims against the released convicts,” he said. “Some theories sound good in concept but don’t work in the real world. The U.S. Supreme Court got this decision wrong and we are respectfully asking the Court to overturn its decision, or to limit it to certain federal crimes. Without action, the negative consequences will damage Oklahomans for years to come.”
Hoskin, however, said that the U.S. government promised the tribes, through treaty, a reservation and the authority to govern their citizens.
"It has been over a year since the Supreme Court's McGirt decision reaffirmed that promise, during which tribes have worked closely with local, state and federal agencies to cooperate on supporting victims and keeping Oklahomans safe," Hoskin said. "After over a century of the state of Oklahoma illegally acting outside of its jurisdiction, it is not surprising there are still defendants who must be tried by tribal or federal courts, still victims who must be supported during this transitional time, and other work that must be done to reverse the suppression of our nation’s justice system. But tribes and our partners have proved themselves up to the task."
The case is centered on the conviction of Shaun Bosse, a non-Native American, who brutally murdered a Chickasaw mother and her two young children. In May, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to keep Bosse on Oklahoma’s death row while its considered reviewing questions about Oklahoma’s criminal jurisdiction.
“Oklahomans were not notified or afforded due process before their rights were so severely taken. The Biden administration was quick to seize upon the McGirt ruling and to assert control over Oklahoma surface mining,” O’Connor said.
The AG added that it sued the Biden administration to undo that incursion into Oklahoma’s sovereignty over land within its borders.
Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office had earlier this year described the fallout from McGirt as the “most pressing issue” for the future of Oklahoma.
“For the reasons stated by the Chief Justice [John Roberts] in his dissent, McGirt was wrongly decided, and its disruptive effects in Oklahoma are unprecedented. While the Court believed that compromise or congressional action could limit the disruption from its decision, it is now clear that neither is forthcoming," the petition states. “The tribes do not agree among themselves, much less with the State, on the proper path forward and Congress is unlikely to adopt any proposal not supported by all of the parties involved."
Hoskin said that the governor and the AG, instead of joining efforts to resolve issues, are again seeking to undermine cooperation by attempting to overturn the Supreme Court ruling.
"With today's filing in Bosse v. Oklahoma, they have made clear this was never about protecting victims or stopping crime, but simply advancing an anti-Indian political agenda," Hoskin said. "The governor has never attempted to cooperate with the tribes to protect all Oklahomans. It is perfectly clear it has always been his intent to destroy Oklahoma’s reservations and the sovereignty of Oklahoma tribes, no matter what the cost might be."
Hoskin said that the Cherokee Nation looks forward to the Supreme Court again affirming the law and the reservations of all tribes.
"[We] hope the governor and attorney general can put aside their political posturing to do what is right for all the people of Oklahoma," he said.