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Tribal Jurisdiction On Supreme Court Docket Again With McGirt V. Oklahoma

A case about a murder that took place in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation could affect tribal sovereignty and state legal authority.

Oral arguments in a case that could reshape tribal justice in eastern Oklahoma have been set to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on April 21.

The case, McGirt v. Oklahoma, argues under the Indian Major Crimes Act the state does not have the authority to prosecute convicted child rapist Jimcy McGirt. He claims because the crime allegedly occurred on the Creek reservation, he must be tried in federal court.


While the Sharp v. Murphy case focuses on whether the 1866 territorial boundaries of the Creek Nation constitute an “Indian Reservation,” the McGirt v. Oklahoma case focuses on the jurisdiction of the state and federal law over enrolled members who commit crimes within historical tribal boundaries. 

McGirt has moved to the forefront in the long-running dispute with state prosecutors and the state’s Indian Nations. Last year, the court failed to settle the case of Patrick Murphy, a convicted murderer now on death row. 

McGirt was convicted by a Wagoner County jury more than 20 years ago of first-degree rape, lewd molestation and forcible sodomy and sentenced to 500 years for each of the rape and molestation counts and life without parole for the forcible sodomy charge,

Like Murphy, McGirt is arguing that as an enrolled member of the federally recognized Seminole/Creek Nations of Oklahoma, the state cannot prosecute him for his crimes. 

These five Oklahoma tribes: Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole Nations cover over 4,000 square miles of land. Meaning, the outcome of the Sharp v. Murphy and McGrit v. Oklahoma cases will determine the outcome of state authority on tribal lands and any future criminal prosecutions. 


On Feb. 11, 2020, U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), former Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry as well as multiple Tribal Nations filed amici curiae briefs in the McGirt case. Amici curiae, the plural form of amicus curiae, is a Latin term for “friend of the court” and is a petition on behalf of one of the parties of a case from a non-involved party. 

Just as the Murphy case gained major attention with multiple sources putting forth opinions on the matter, the McGirt case is expected to do the same. The importance of the McGirt case is already proving to be true with seven amici curiae briefs already filed on the petitioner’s behalf.

Gaylord News reporter KaraLee Langford contributed to this report.

Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication


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