Law & Principles

Jonathan Small statement on McGirt v. Oklahoma court decision

July 11, 2020


Responding to Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, issued the following statement:

This week’s Court ruling reminds us that, in times like we’re living in today, it’s more important than ever that we all remain united for Oklahoma.

The Court’s actual ruling was narrow: members of the Creek tribe, on territory once set aside for the Creek tribe, can only be prosecuted by federal, not state, authorities for serious crimes. The case began with the appeal of a man convicted in Oklahoma state court in 1997 for the rape of a four-year-old girl. The Supreme Court found that land reserved for the Creek Nation since the nineteenth century remains what the Court’s majority opinion referred to as “Indian country” for the purposes of the federal Major Crimes Act.

The decision leaves many Oklahomans, including members and non-members of various Native American tribes, wondering what happens next. After the opinion was released, our state’s Attorney General released a joint statement with five of Oklahoma’s largest Native American tribes announcing that together they have already made “substantial progress toward an agreement to present to Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice” they hope will resolve issues that might be raised by the McGirt decision.

Politicians should proceed with caution. No one should manipulate the Court’s decision―or media coverage of it―for their own benefit. Despite numerous rumors that half of Oklahoma is now what some have referred to as an “Indian reservation,” this decision is limited. The Court ruled only on the facts before it. The McGirt decision is limited to the Creek Nation and the Major Crimes Act. Other courts and decisions could either extend or limit the reach of this decision.

What the Court made clear is this is a job for Congress. The Court’s majority was unwilling to step in and do the work previous Congresses dating back to the 1800s had failed to do. OCPA is happy to see our nation’s highest Court unwilling to act as “judicial legislators.” Now Congress should do its job and resolve potential jurisdictional and other issues. Within our state, Governor Stitt should assume the lead role as primary negotiator on behalf of the state, as Oklahoma governors have commonly done in the past on similar matters. He should act with the help of the Attorney General―not the other way around. The Governor ran on a promise to represent all Oklahomans, including those who are members of our state’s proud Native American tribes. Now more than ever, Oklahomans should unite to seek solutions and policies in the best interests of all Oklahomans.