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Key developments in the landmark 'McGirt v. Oklahoma' case

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Anna Pope / KOSU
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Dozens of protestors expressed their frustration at a McGirt v. Oklahoma community impact forum in Tulsa, Okla. in July 2021.

Early on, Sarah Deer — a Muscogee Nation citizen, University Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas and an expert in Indian law — thought the decision that ruled the Muscogee Nation's reservation was never disestablished should be called the Mvskoke Reservation decision. That way, it would draw attention away from Jimcy McGirt, a sexual predator whose name will forever be associated with this landmark decision about tribal sovereignty.

"Consider if Jimcy McGirt lost his case, and the Court had decided to judicially dis-establish the Mvskoke reservation," said Deer to KOSU. "If the MCN tried to file appeals to overturn the decision less than two years later, I'm sure the state of Oklahoma would have been the first to say that the case has already been litigated."

Deer was one of the legal experts to talk to KOSU about McGirt v. Oklahoma. She co-authored an amicus brief in this case and is an expert in tribal criminal law. In 2014, she was named a MacArthur Fellow. She says all crime stories are ghastly, whether they deal with questions of jurisdiction or not.

"To exploit the stories of victims to score political or judicial points is more than concerning," said Deer. "The energy and money being spent in fighting the case could be better directed to victim services across Oklahoma."

Indeed, Deer has done just that. She advocated for the Tribal Law and Order Act which expanded sentencing of violent offenders in tribal courts from one year to three, and she has been a proponent of the Violence Against Women Act, which has yet to be reauthorized.

On Friday, Jan. 7, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to re-hear McGirt v. Oklahoma or deny the state's petitions. This decision will have a profound effect on the six tribal nations who have had their reservation ruled never disestablished, which includes the Quapaw Nation in northeastern Oklahoma.

If you want to know more about this case, what tribal nations are saying about it and what the state has to say, below is a brief timeline of key events.

April 2019

  • April 17 -  Jimcy McGirt, a citizen of the Seminole Nation, files to have his case heard in the U.S. Supreme Court.

July 2020

  • July 9 - In a 5-4 ruling, SCOTUS rules Congress never disestablished the Muscogee Nation reservation. (KOSU)

October 2020

  • Oct. 21 - Oklahoma’s attorney general releases new plan allowing the Five Tribes to compact with the state, sharing criminal jurisdiction. (KOSU)

November 2020

  • Nov. 6 - Jimcy McGirt is found guilty in a federal court retrial. (KOSU)

March 2021

  • March 11 - The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) also found Congress never disestablished the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations. (KOSU)

April 2021

  • April 1 - OCCA rules the Seminole and Choctaw Nation are also not disestablished. (Tulsa World)

May 2021

  • May 11 - Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole introduces a bill allowing the State of Oklahoma and the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations to compact without federal government intervention. (Tulsa World)
  • May 26 - To clarify tribal jurisdiction, the U.S. Supreme Court stays the OCCA reversal of Shaun Bosse’s, an Oklahoma death row inmate, conviction. (KOSU)

July 2021

  • July 13 - The McGirt v. Oklahoma Community Impact Forum ended early after people voiced their frustrations on the state’s reaction to the ruling. Gov. Kevin Stitt and state district attorneys sat on the panel with no tribal representation. (KOSU)

August 2021

  • Aug. 6 - Oklahoma Attorney General files petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn or limit the scope of the McGirt decision. (KOSU)
  • Aug. 12 - Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rules McGirt v. Oklahoma decision will only apply to cases after the decision. (KOSU)

September 2021

October 2021

  • Oct. 21 - The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals rules the McGirt decision transcends the Five Tribes. The court ruled the Quapaw Nation's reservation was never disestablished. (KOSU)
  • Oct. 23 - Cities of Owasso and Tulsa, the Oklahoma District Attorney's Association, business groups, and the states of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Louisiana file amicus briefs in support of Oklahoma's petitions. (KOSU)

November 2021

  • Nov. 15 - President Biden expands tribal jurisdiction over non-native American offenders through executive order. (The Oklahoman)
Anna Pope was an intern at KOSU between May 2021 to May 2022.
Allison Herrera is a radio and print journalist who's worked for PRX's The World, Colorado Public Radio as the climate and environment editor and as a freelance reporter for High Country News’ Indigenous Affairs desk.
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