In a Supreme Court decision handed down yesterday, 2020-07-09, McGirt v. Oklahoma [PDF], the court ruled 5–4 in an opinion written by Neil Gorsuch, joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, that an 1833 treaty between the United States and the Creek Nation granting the Indian nation a reservation “in perpetuity” remains in force. Gorsuch wrote for the majority,
The federal government promised the Creek a reservation in perpetuity. Over time, Congress has diminished that reservation. It has sometimes restricted and other times expanded the Tribe’s authority. But Congress has never withdrawn the promised reservation.
The decision voided the 1997 rape conviction of Jimcy McGirt, an Indian, who argued that Oklahoma had no jurisdiction to prosecute crimes on tribal land, where only federal law applies. The area involved is almost half of Oklahoma, with a population of 1.8 million, and including most of the city of Tulsa. Oklahoma warned that such a ruling could result in the release of 1700 inmates convicted under state law in the territory. Gorsuch ruled,
Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.
McGirt’s conviction by Oklahoma was overturned, but he faces re-trial in a federal court.
If this decision is broadly construed to grant Indian reservation status to a large part of Oklahoma, then state criminal law would not apply there, and the tribe would be sovereign in regulating matters such as alcohol and gambling. Further, there are other tribes with similar claims in Oklahoma and states including Maine, Texas, and Montana, who may now bring cases to restore sovereignty over lands once granted to them and never rescinded by Congress.
Here is coverage of the decision from a variety of sources and viewpoints.
Here is a video about the decision and its implications from The Oklahoman.