U.S. Supreme Court Watch Supreme Court to hear tribal jurisdiction case Ruling in favor of Muscogee (Creek) Nation could set a domino effect into motion

By Molly M. Fleming

BridgeTower Media Newswires

WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a case that could decide if the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has jurisdiction over 11 counties in eastern Oklahoma, and possibly set a precedent for other tribes.

Royal v. Murphy will be heard by the high court this fall, with a decision expected before June 2019. The court is being asked to decide if the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's 11-county jurisdiction is still intact. The territory includes 70 percent of Tulsa's city limits.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its ruling that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's reservation was never disestablished. The change can be done only through an act of Congress. Tenth Circuit Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich said in his concurrence that the case should be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In February, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter asked the Supreme Court to consider the case.

Hunter said in a prepared statement that he's pleased the court has taken up the case, and his office is looking forward to presenting the state's side.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Attorney General Kevin Dellinger said in a prepared statement that the 10th Circuit made the correct assessment of the tribe's boundaries.

"We welcome the chance for the United States Supreme Court to affirm the Muscogee (Creek) Nation's sovereign territorial boundaries as established in our 1866 treaty with the United States," Dellinger said. "The 10th Circuit found clear confirmation that Congress deliberately preserved the Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation."

"Unable to dispute the clear historical record and the law, the state of Oklahoma has asked the Supreme Court to read into facts that simply do not exist and/or to change the well-established applicable law," he said. "That request should be denied, and we are confident it will be."

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the tribe, then there could be a huge domino effect in the state. The other four nations in the Five Civilized Tribes could ask for an analysis of their jurisdictions and would get the same results, said Taiawagi Helton, a professor of law at the University of Oklahoma. The Five Civilized Tribes are the Cherokees, the Chickasaws, the Choctaws, the Seminoles, and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

Helton said the tribes signed a lot of the same treaties. And while each tribe would need its own analysis of its jurisdictional standing, there was never a congressional act to disestablish those reservations.

The Murphy case dates back to 1999, when Patrick Murphy was convicted of killing George Jacobs. He was tried in state court, but he had the ruling challenged because he's a Muscogee (Creek) citizen, and the murder occurred in Indian territory. Under the Major Crimes Act, murder is one crime that when done on Indian territory must be tried in federal court.

Since the August ruling, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has been working to get more police departments deputized within its boundaries. Principal Chief James Floyd, during a presentation at Oklahoma State University, said there are 50 police jurisdictions in the tribe's reservation land.

Before the ruling, only six police organizations were cross-deputized. Now there are more than 30.

Floyd said during the presentation that even if the Supreme Court takes the case and rules in the tribe's favor, northeastern Oklahoma residents shouldn't expect any changes. He said it would take at least 20 years before any drastic changes occur.

"We're being methodical on how we approach it," he said, previously.

The Tulsa County District Court initially saw an influx of requests for cases to be moved to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma. But with all the district attorneys giving the same answer wait until cert is denied or the Supreme Court rules those requests have dwindled, said Erik Grayless, first assistant district attorney.

He said he expects those requests to decrease even more since there will be a Supreme Court decision. He said he thinks the case will be overturned, given that the federal government asked for the case to be reviewed.

If allowed, the district court office will likely file an amicus brief, he said.

"The local district attorneys' offices will bear the brunt of this decision, whatever it is," he said.

In the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, Cleve Billings filed a writ of habeas corpus in April, citing the Murphy case. The request was dismissed because the Lexington-based prisoner had not gone through the state courts first.

Published: Tue, May 29, 2018

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