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SCOTUS backs Oklahoma in case regarding crimes on tribal lands

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled 5-4 to allow Oklahoma state authorities to prosecute non-Native Americans who commit crimes against Native Americans on tribal lands, The Associated Press and New York Times report.

Wednesday's decision limited in scope a related ruling from 2020 — McGirt v. Oklahoma — that declared much of eastern Oklahoma an American Indian reservation and restricted the state from prosecuting Native Americans accused of crimes on said lands, which include "much of the city of Tulsa," the Times writes. Rather, offenders are to be prosecuted in tribal or federal court. A state court then later ruled that, per the high court's decision, the state is unable to "prosecute anyone for crimes committed on tribal land if either the victim or perpetrator is Native American," AP summarizes.

But the 5-4 decision, written by conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh, ruled in favor of Oklahoma in its bid to prosecute "Victor Castro-Huerta, a non-Native American convicted of child neglect in a crime committed against a Native American child - his 5-year-old stepdaughter - on the Cherokee Nation reservation," Reuters reports. 

Per the new ruling, the state can intervene when victims are tribal members. "The State's interest in protecting crime victims includes both Indian and non-Indian victims," Kavanaugh wrote for the majority.

In the dissent, however, Justice Neil Gorsuch — joined by the court's three liberal members — argued that the decision "allows Oklahoma to intrude on a feature of tribal sovereignty recognized since the founding."

Castro-Huerta has already pleaded guilty to child neglect in federal court, though he has not yet been formally sentenced.