The Supreme Court made a mess in Oklahoma two years ago, but the good news is the Justices might now be moving to help clean it up. On Friday they agreed to hear an appeal that could refill some of the prosecutorial vacuum left by
, the High Court’s gravely misguided 2020 ruling.
The new case, Oklahoma v. Victor
, involves a man convicted of child neglect. His disabled 5-year-old stepdaughter weighed 19 pounds when she was rushed to the ER, “covered in lice and excrement,” the state’s brief says. Her crib was found “filled with bedbugs and cockroaches and contained a single, dry sippy cup, the top of which was chewed through.”
The man was convicted and received 35 years. But then in McGirt, the Supreme Court decided that unbeknown to a century of Oklahomans, nearly half the state is still an Indian reservation. This child neglect had taken place within the historical boundaries of the Cherokee Nation. The stepfather isn’t Native American, but the 5-year-old was Eastern Cherokee, a tribe based in North Carolina. Under McGirt, that’s enough to make the state’s jurisdiction vanish.
The Justices did not accept Oklahoma’s plea to take up whether McGirt should be overturned outright, which is disappointing given the facts on the ground. Instead they’ll consider the argument that the state has concurrent jurisdiction when non-Native Americans victimize Native Americans. Today only the feds can charge such crimes.
The worst lawbreaking is being followed up, and the man convicted of child neglect “accepted a federal plea of seven years (plus time served),” the state says. Yet the feds are so deluged that the evidence suggests lesser crimes are committed with de facto impunity. Steal a Native American’s car, or peep into her bathroom, and nobody with jurisdiction has the time to care.
Merely taking this case is an important step. It could prompt Congress to consider its own role in this chaos, while forcing the press to dial some Tulsa area codes to find out what’s the matter in Oklahoma. We’ve been almost alone in the national press in covering the story.
Questions about whether McGirt affects the state’s power to tax and regulate would be left for another day. But letting the state again prosecute unprosecuted crimes would make a huge difference to Native American victims.
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