Justice Gorsuch Has Grim News For Americans
(UnitedVoice.com) – Before Oklahoma became a state, it became home to Native Americans transplanted by President Andrew Jackson. By the end of Jackson’s presidency in 1837, his administration had terminated nearly 70 treaties with Native Americans. It relocated almost 50,000 in the southeast to Indian territory, which would become Oklahoma in 1906. Today, Oklahoma is home to 39 tribal nations, and the Cherokee Nation is the largest of those, with approximately 141,000 citizens.
Questions about jurisdiction have existed for decades about crimes committed by or against Native Americans. In 2020, the US Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma had no jurisdiction against them, recognizing their sovereignty on native lands. Only tribes or the federal government could try them for crimes. Yet, that all changed recently when the High Court overturned its 2020 decision and gave authority back to the states. In a dissenting opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch said this action would hurt Native Americans.
2020 Decision Recognizes Tribal Authority But Harms Victims, Oklahoma Alleged
On Wednesday, June 29, the Supreme Court increased Oklahoma’s powers over Native American tribes, diminishing an earlier ruling in 2020. In McGirt v. Oklahoma, the SCOTUS blocked Oklahoma authorities from its jurisdiction over tribal lands and gave responsibility to federal courts. The decision led to approximately 3,600 cases per year falling under the purview of federal prosecutors instead of state authorities.
The High Court ruled in McGirt that tribes had the same authority as the state to try their own people for crimes. In 2021, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals tossed out the case of Victor Castro-Huerta for neglecting his stepdaughter, who was blind and had cerebral palsy. The federal government had indicted Castro-Huerta, and he pleaded guilty to neglecting the girl. Still, the federal government didn’t sentence him.
Oklahoma said the decision harmed the girl and filed to repeal the ruling.
Supreme Court Overturns 2020 Case to Gorsuch’s Displeasure
Justice Gorsuch has advocated for Native American rights for a long time. On Wednesday, he sided with the three liberal Justices, dissenting against a majority ruling overturning the 2020 decision. Gorsuch wrote in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta that the decision was a mistake and hard to fathom. He added it would negatively impact tribes in other states and called on future politicians and courts to honor the nation’s past promises to Native Americans.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) disagreed with Gorsuch’s opinion. He claimed thousands of Native American victims didn’t receive justice only because of their race. He said the Sooner State could begin enforcing the law again as it did for over 100 hundred years.
Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor (R) said federal authorities ignored too many crimes against Native Americans. He said the state could provide much-needed relief by returning to the work of protecting vulnerable victims.
Still, Cherokee Nation leaders expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court’s ruling. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said the High Court didn’t deliver on the nation’s promises to Native Americans and disregarded their sovereignty.
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