Congressman introduces bill related to McGirt decision, impact on Oklahoma

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WASHINGTON (KFOR) – A congressman from Oklahoma has introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives related to the Supreme Court’s McGirt vs. Oklahoma decision.

On July 9, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that the Muscogee (Creek) reservation was never disestablished.

It’s a ruling that has a big impact on the state’s criminal justice system.

“For anybody that has an Indian card, a CDIB card, a certified degree of Indian blood,” Native American law attorney Robert Gifford told KFOR. “If they are within the Creek Nation, the state of Oklahoma had no jurisdiction over them.”

State, local, tribal leaders meet for McGirt decision discussion
This week, state leaders including Seminole Nation Chief Greg Chilcoat, District 22’s District Attorney Paul B. Smith and Attorney General Mike Hunter met for discussions regarding the McGirt decision and how they will move forward with cases, both past and present, involving Native Americans on tribal land. (Photo: KFOR)

As it stands, these decisions alter the State’s legal jurisdiction and law enforcement capabilities on a significant portion of eastern Oklahoma, creating uncertainty for many Oklahomans.

“In general, the McGirt decision by the United States Supreme Court has created a significant amount of confusion, especially in regards to inmates who are serving time in state custody for crimes committed on historic tribal lands,” Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said in August.

After the Supreme Court’s decision, Hunter said his office was flooded with appeals, which he said he would oppose.

“The McGirt case does not constitute a get out of prison free card,” Hunter said. “We are not going to allow our justice system to be exploited by individuals who have murdered, raped, or committed another crime of a serious nature while the federal government considers whether to rearrest or adjudicate their cases.”

In the meantime, tribal nations have worked to take over hundreds of cases impacted by the decision.

Now, Congressman Tom Cole says he has introduced legislation that would authorize the Chicksaw Nation, Cherokee Nation, and the State of Oklahoma to reach an agreement without the federal government getting involved.

“Consistent with the diligent work done and progress made with state and tribal partners, this legislation does not mandate how Oklahoma, the Chickasaw Nation and the Cherokee Nation should come to agreement. Instead, the legislation would give them an avenue to decide independently, rightly ensuring that any decision directly affecting Oklahoma or these tribes is made at the state and local level,” said Cole. “Indeed, Oklahomans are the best suited for making decisions that affect their own unique communities. 

The measure would also address the immediate issues facing law enforcement officers as a result of the ruling.

“Over the past several months, I have had many serious and productive conversations with law enforcement officers across the Fourth District of Oklahoma. This legislation would provide an immediate solution to the urgent issues facing law enforcement, giving them clarity to enforce the law, keep dangerous criminals behind bars and ensure justice is served.”

Bill text is available here

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The Oklahoma Media Center is a collaborative of Oklahoma media outlets. The topic the OMC is focusing on for 2021 is “Promised Land” which dives into how the landmark  McGirt v. Oklahoma decision impacts both trial and non-tribal Oklahomans. 

It is a project of the Local Media Foundation with support from the Inasmuch Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and the Democracy Fund. Partners include many Oklahoma media outlets. 

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