Dear USET/USET SPF Family,
On June 29, 2022, the Supreme Court issued its decision
in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, holding that states have concurrent criminal jurisdiction over non-Indian crimes against Indians in Indian country under federal law. In a 5–4 vote, the Court reversed the decision of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, which held that the state of Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction over crimes committed by a non-Indian against an Indian within Indian country. Importantly, while the case centered on Tribal criminal jurisdiction in Oklahoma, the decision is likely to have implications across Indian Country because it undermines centuries-old legal precedent that state law does not apply on our lands without congressional authorization. The majority opinion reflects a belief and position that “Indian Country is part of the State, not separate from the State.” USET SPF is alarmed by the flawed, inaccurate, paternalistic, and regressive nature of the decision and its potential to impinge upon the full exercise of our criminal and civil jurisdiction.
“The Supreme Court has erred in its decision in Castro-Huerta. The United States was founded on a recognition of our inherent Tribal sovereignty and nearly 200 years of Supreme Court precedent underpins that recognition. With this decision, our sovereign right to jurisdiction over crimes committed against our people is further restricted. Under no other scenario is a sovereign government given jurisdiction over crimes committed on the lands of another--regardless of the defendant’s citizenship," said USET SPF President, Kirk Francis. "Indian Country should be highly alarmed and concerned by this decision, as it serves as yet another example of calculated efforts to dismantle our sovereign authorities, rights, and existence. Indian Country must now demonstrate strategic precision as we call upon Congress and the Administration to not only support an immediate fix to Castro-Huerta in recognition of trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations, but to move the United States to a place where it consistently honors and respects our sovereign existence.”
In an emotional dissent, Justice Neil Gorsuch, joined by Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Sotomayor, expressed frustration with the majority opinion, saying, “Today the Court rules for Oklahoma. In doing so, the Court announces that, when it comes to crimes by non-Indians against tribal members within tribal reservations, Oklahoma may “exercise jurisdiction.” Ante, at 4. But this declaration comes as if by oracle, without any sense of the history recounted above and unattached to any colorable legal authority. Truly, a more ahistorical and mistaken statement of Indian law would be hard to fathom.”
USET SPF will continue to analyze Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta and provide further information to our membership as it becomes available. In addition, we will seek opportunities to address its impacts via the legislative and/or regulatory process. For more information and additional legal analysis, we enclose a summary from Hobbs Straus Dean & Walker.
In addition, we provide information regarding several upcoming events offering further analysis and discussion on the decision:
7/6, 12 pm ET/11 am CT: UCLA
7/7, 2 pm ET/1 pm CT: NCAI-NARF Tribal Leaders Roundtable
7/7, 4:30 pm ET/3:30 pm CT: ASU
7/7, 7:30 pm ET/6:30 pm CT: Cherokee Nation - University of OK [Save the Date, registration link available soon]
For more information, please contact Liz Malerba, USET SPF Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs, at email@example.com.