What started out as a child-molestation case ended with the Supreme Court ruling that much of eastern Oklahoma belongs to the people who there first: Native Americans.
The convicted child molester brought suit contending that because he was a member of the Creek Nation and the offense occurred on reservation land, the state of Oklahoma did not have jurisdiction. The state countered that because the treaties going back to the 1830s had been ignored in practice all along, and officially ignored since Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the reservation had no authority on its own land. The Supreme Court said otherwise.
By a five-to-four margin the Court ruled that the state of Oklahoma does not have jurisdiction over the tribal lands. Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch joined Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in the decision. Writing for the majority, Gorsuch said, “To hold otherwise would be to elevate the most brazen and longstanding injustices over the law, both rewarding wrong and failing those in the right. If Congress wishes to withdraw its promises, it must say so. Unlawful acts, performed long enough and with sufficient vigor, are never enough to amend the law.”
The area in question is home to nearly two-million people, including much of the city of Tulsa.
In a dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts said that it would be so-o-o-o hard to change how the justice system operated after all this time. In a dissent to the dissent, Justice Thomas wrote, We stole it from them; we shouldn’t have to give it back. They can’t be Indian givers.
The Oklahoma Attorney General and leaders of five tribal groups are taking it in stride. In a joint statement issued after the ruling they said they have made “substantial progress toward an agreement” to construct a “framework of shared jurisdiction.”
And the child molester? He’s not off the hook; he now faces federal charges.
If a Trump appointee concurring with the so-called liberal faction of the Supreme Court isn’t enough of a surprise, the U.S. Congress—both House and Senate—just passed by “unanimous consent” legislation nullifying an 1865 “supplemental treaty” that nullified an 1855 treaty that moved Warm Springs and Wasco tribes to a reservation in Oregon in exchange for ten-million acres the Native Americans had claimed as theirs.
The original treaty guaranteed tribal members the right to travel off the reservation to hunt, fish and forage, as they had done for centuries. Ten years later the U.S. reneged; residents were not allowed to leave the reservation without permission.
Although little enforced in recent times, Congress finally has legislated The 1865 Treaty Nullification Act. The effort to kill the 1865 treaty goes back to Republican Senator Mark Hatfield, who left office in 1997. The just-passed bill was introduced in the House by Republican Greg Walden and in the Senate by Democrats Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden. It is now on the President’s desk. (Wherever that may be.)
Are these anomalies or is there hope for the two parties working together?
(Naw, these are aberrations.)