Oklahoma Attorney General O’Connor released the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta case.
“Today, the State of Oklahoma asked the U.S. Supreme Court to confirm that the State has the authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians in eastern Oklahoma, which is now the expanded Indian country under the McGirt decision. The State has been prosecuting such criminals since 1907.
“Right now, we have two sets of rules when Indians are victimized, those that apply when perpetrator is non-Indian and a different set of rules when the perpetrator is Indian. On the ground in eastern Oklahoma, we have victims without justice and crimes without punishments.
“The federal government is leaving thousands of tribal victims of crime in eastern Oklahoma without justice, and as many criminals unprosecuted and free to victimize others around the State. This has dramatically damaged public safety in eastern Oklahoma.
“Clearly, a win for Oklahoma in this case is a win for these Native American victims.
“No matter the outcome, I will continue to reach out to the leaders of the Indian nations to engage in constructive conversations seeking resolutions that will benefit all Oklahomans.
“I want to thank our outside counsel Kannon Shanmugam, Oklahoma Solicitor General Mithun Mansinghani, and the entire team of attorneys representing Oklahoma for their countless hours of preparation and hard work. I am grateful for the support of Oklahoma sheriffs, chiefs of police, district attorneys, the City of Tulsa, business groups like the Farm Bureau, Cattlemen’s Association, and Petroleum Alliance, and states like Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Louisiana, and Virginia, all of whom filed briefs in support of State criminal jurisdiction in eastern Oklahoma,” AG O’Connor added.
This is the third time the justices have heard arguments about whether Oklahoma has criminal jurisdiction over crimes involving tribal members in eastern Oklahoma. This case, Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, is whether a state, alongside the federal government, has authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes against Indians in Indian country. If the state does not have this authority, only the federal government would have jurisdiction over most of these crimes.
Narrowing the scope will not lessen all McGirt’s harmful consequences in Oklahoma, but it will guarantee non-Indians who victimize Indians can be prosecuted under the same rules as perpetrators who victimize non-Indians. More importantly, it will provide Indian victims the same protection and justice that all other Oklahomans enjoy.
This issue is important but it’s far less significant than the tax and regulation issue. If the state is denied Native American taxes it might as well give way to 39 states governed by the principal chiefs of the 39 resident tribes.