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Oklahoma AG Asks Supreme Court To Overturn 'McGirt v. Oklahoma.' Tribes Say Move Is 'Anti-Indian'

J. Scott Applewhite
The Supreme Court

New Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor filed a petition Friday with the United States Supreme Court asking the body to overturn or limit the scope of last year's landmark McGirt v. Oklahoma decision.

The filing comes a day after a federal court in Muskogee convicted Patrick Murphy of 2nd degree murder. Murphy filed the original case, questioning Oklahoma’s jurisdiction because he committed the crime inside the Muscogee Nation.

O’Conner asked the Nation's highest court to allow Oklahoma to continue imprisoning felons convicted before the McGirt ruling. He also wants the Court to affirm the state's right to prosecute non-Native people who commit crimes against Native people within Tribal Nation boundaries. Oklahoma officials prosecuted non-Native people for more than 100 years, believing they had the right to do so.

A statement from the Cherokee Nation in response to the filing said the state of Oklahoma has made clear this was never about protecting victims or stopping crime, but simply advancing an anti-Indian political agenda.

"Unfortunately, the governor and the Attorney General of Oklahoma have chosen not to join these efforts but to once again seek to undermine cooperation by attempting to overturn the Supreme Court's ruling," said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. of the Cherokee Nation.

Since the ruling in July 2020 upheld their jurisdictional boundaries, the Muscogee Nation and four other tribal nations in Oklahoma have prosecuted thousands of cases in tribal courts and worked with state law enforcement through cross-deputization agreements. The Tribal Nations have also spent millions upgrading their criminal justice systems and added more prosecutors to handle the increased case loads.

The state of Oklahoma was granted a stay by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Shaun Michael Bosse. Bosse is the defendant in another case impacted by the McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling. The High Court granted the stay while they review the case. Bosse was originally convicted and sentenced to death in 2012 for the murder of Chickasaw citizen Katrina Griffin and her two children in McClain County.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court, O’Connor cited Governor Kevin Stitt, who has said that the jurisdiction change caused by the McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling is the most pressing issue facing the state. O'Connor's office said that the ruling was, "recklessly overbroad" and has put Oklahomans in danger, saying many residents have no law enforcement to call when they are in need of help.

Tribal leaders dispute this claim, pointing to the cross-deputization agreements state police and tribal police have used to work together since the 1990s.

Stephen Greetham, Chickasaw Nation's senior legal counsel, said in a written statement, "We are carefully reviewing Oklahoma’s petition and will address it in due course. In the meantime, our focus remains working with our partners to keep our communities safe.”

At the Inter-Tribal Council meeting leaders of the Five Tribes held on the anniversary of the McGirt decision, a maintained they were committed to public safety and said, "There are many foes when it comes to McGirt, but the foes we have on McGirt are not each other."

This report was produced by the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange, a collaboration of public media organizations. Help support collaborative journalism by donating at the link at the top of this webpage.

Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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