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Capitol Insider: U.S. Supreme Court Moves Closer To Resolution Of McGirt-related Legal Matters

U.S. Supreme Court 2022
Fred Schilling/Fred Schilling, Collection of th
The Roberts Court, April 23, 2021 Seated from left to right: Justices Samuel A. Alito, Jr. and Clarence Thomas, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., and Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor Standing from left to right: Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh, Elena Kagan, Neil M. Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett. Photograph by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States

While rejecting 32 of the 33 petitions filed by the State of Oklahoma regarding its 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma, the U.S. Supreme Court set an April hearing date for further consideration of the effect of the decision on the federal Major Crimes Act.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and government. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, for months, the state of Oklahoma has filed petitions asking the U.S. Supreme Court to clarify, limit or overturn its 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma. After considering 33 petitions submitted, a few days ago the court made its determination. What did the U.S. Supreme Court do?

Shawn Ashley: First, the court agreed to hear one question: Whether a state has the authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians in Indian Country. Now, this question really harkens back to the original case, which was about criminal jurisdiction, whether tribes or the federal government were responsible for prosecuting some crimes and the state responsible for prosecuting others that occurred on reservations that still exist. After announcing they would tackle that question, the court then refused to grant certiorari to 32 other petitions filed by the state of Oklahoma, which Oklahoma was asking the court to clarify, limit or overturn its original decision.

That seems to indicate that the court is satisfied with its original decision that major crimes committed by Native Americans on reservations that were never disestablished or under the sovereign jurisdiction of tribal or federal courts. After it hears arguments in April on the question of whether a state has the authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians in Indian Country, it likely will come back with a limited decision. But you never know. The court could hear the arguments and end up doing what Kevin Stitt and Attorney General John O'Connor have been hoping for - clarifying, limiting or perhaps even overturning its original decision.

Dick Pryor: What's been the reaction here in Oklahoma?

Shawn Ashley: You know, most of the parties seem to see the glass as half full, if you will. Governor Stitt and Attorney General John O'Connor called the court's decision to look at the single limited question a victory. Stitt said he was encouraged by the court's action, and O'Connor said it was a step forward for the state of Oklahoma and of paramount importance. Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said the court's action establishes a new level of certainty and finality related to the original McGirt decision, and Muskogee Nation Principal Chief David Hill said the court's rejection of the state's 32 petitions should end the state of Oklahoma's long, unfruitful campaign of litigation.

Dick Pryor: There are several bills filed for the upcoming legislative session regarding curriculum and practices in schools. The State Department of Education received a report outlining complaints about possible violations of a bill regarding diversity training that passed last session. What was in the report?

Shawn Ashley: The board received that report Thursday at its first meeting of 2022. State Department of Education General Counsel Brad Clark told the board two complaints had reached the agency in the last two months related to possible violations of House Bill 1775, which took effect back in July. One complaint alleged a local board of education had not adopted its own policy related to curriculum as required by the law, and an investigation by the State Department of Education found that not to be the case that the board, in fact, had adopted a policy. The second complaint focused on a geography quiz. The State Department of Education found nothing wrong with the quiz but did question why it was given in a geography class. The issue was handled at the district level and the quiz was removed from the curriculum.

Dick Pryor: What's the State Board of Education going to do about this?

Shawn Ashley: Well, since there were no violations of the provisions of House Bill 1775 involved, no action will be taken involving either district. Ultimately, the issues had been handled at the district level as the law required.

Dick Pryor: And finally, state agencies have been presenting their budget requests to the legislature. What stands out about what you're seeing?

Shawn Ashley: What we're really seeing two things most state agencies are requesting flat budgets or minimal increases. But this week, the House Appropriations and Budget Committee heard from some of the larger agencies, and we saw that the State Department of Education is requesting a total of $3.26 billion in funding. More than 75 percent of their proposed increase would go into classrooms, lawmakers were told. The State Regents for Higher Education are also asking for more funding - an additional $85 million with an eye on funding programs that would help improve Oklahoma's workforce issues. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is seeking more than $80 million in new funding to support the state's Medicaid program. Some of that money would offset the anticipated loss of federal funds, and other funds would go directly into programs. And, the Department of Human Services is seeking $70 million more in order to help fund the programs it provides.

Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And we'd like to hear from you. Email your questions to news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews at @QuorumCallShawn. For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org. Until next time with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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