McGirt v. Oklahoma

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Indian Law
  • Date Filed: July 9, 2020
  • Case #: 18–9526
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: GORSUCH, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which GINSBURG, BREYER, SOTOMAYOR, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. ROBERTS, C. J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ALITO and KAVANAUGH, JJ., joined, and in which THOMAS, J., joined, except as to footnote 9. THOMAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion.
  • Full Text Opinion

Congress has the sole power to disestablish a Native American reservation; the Major Crimes Act requires federal prosecution of certain crimes within “Indian country,” including the Creek Reservation in Oklahoma.

Petitioner was convicted in an Oklahoma state court of grave sexual offenses.  Under the federal Major Crimes Act (MCA), an Indian, like Petitioner, who commits certain enumerated offenses within “the Indian country” shall be tried in federal court.  Therefore, Petitioner argued that the State of Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction over his case and required a new, federal trial.  The Oklahoma state courts rejected Petitioner’s arguments.  On appeal, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed, holding that the MCA applies to the enumerated crimes committed by Indians on all Indian reservations, including the Creek Reservation.  The Supreme Court reasoned that the main issue was whether Petitioner’s crimes were committed in Indian country.  The Supreme Court found that treaties between the United States and the Creek Nation established the Creek Reservation.  The Supreme Court reasoned that the Creek Reservation remains in existence because Congress, which has the sole power to eliminate or diminish a reservation, has not disestablished it.  Solem v. Bartlett, 465 U. S. 463, 470 (1984).  Furthermore, neither allotments nor historical and current practices constitute disestablishment.  Seymour v. Superintendent of Wash. State Penitentiary, 368 U. S. 351, 356–358 (1962).  Therefore, Petitioner’s alleged crimes occurred in Indian country, the MCA applies, and a federal trial is required.  REVERSED.

Advanced Search

Back to Top