Today is one of those days when the story grabbing the headlines today is not the remarkable story the history books will remember. Today, the headlines are about President Trump’s tax returns, and that the President does not have exclusive authority to ignore the law. But, there was another Supreme Court ruling today. In that ruling, SCOTUS affirmed that STATES also couldn’t ignore the law.
Today the courts ruled that since Congress never actually acted to end our change the boundaries of the Muscogee Reservation, the reservation remains interact and the State of Oklahoma does not have jurisdiction to try cases between tribal members for crimes committed on reservation lands.
The argument against focused on the number of cases this ruling could overturn, and the potential legal chaos involved. In the majority opinion, Justice Gorsich wrote, “The federal government promised the (Muscogee Creek Nation) a reservation in perpetuity,” adding that while Congress has “diminished” the sanctuary over time, lawmakers had “never withdrawn the promised reservation.”
The State cannot claim authority over the reservation unless Congress explicitly gives that authority to the State.
The scope is the ruling is limited to legal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes, but there is a broader message. Promises made in the past to Native Americans cannot now be ignored because it would be too difficult to rectify. In the words of Justice Gorsich, “many of the arguments before us today follow a sadly familiar pattern. Yes, promises were made, but the price of keeping them has become too great, so now we should just cast a blind eye. We reject that thinking.”