The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a large part of eastern Oklahoma remains a Native American reservation, a decision state and federal officials warn could throw the entire state into chaos.
The court’s 5-4 decision, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, means that Oklahoma prosecutors lack the authority to pursue criminal cases against Native American defendants in parts of Oklahoma that include most of Tulsa, the state’s second-largest city.
“On the far end of the Trail of Tears was a promise,” Gorsuch wrote in a decision on Thursday, joined by the court’s liberal members. “Forced to leave their ancestral lands in Georgia and Alabama, the Creek Nation received assurances that their new lands in the west would be secure forever ... Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian [Native American] reservation for purposes of federal criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word.”