Cherokee Nation files 1,000th case after McGirt ruling

·3 min read

Jun. 10—After the Supreme Court's McGirt decision, tribal courts have been inundated with cases that were dismissed by the state. The Cherokee Nation, for instance, has now filed 1,000 cases in the CN District Court.

While the McGirt decision clarified that the Muscogee Nation reservation was never disestablished, in the subsequent Hogner case the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals found that the McGirt ruling applies to the Cherokee Nation. Before the high court's ruling, the tribe would typically file around six cases a month.

The tribe said that the fact that CN's Attorney General Office has now filed 1,000 cases in the past five months is evidence that its committed to public safety, while also fully protecting its sovereignty.

"Since Indian Country's victory in McGirt, the Cherokee Nation has made two priorities crystal clear: we will fight to protect every piece of our hard-earned sovereignty, and we will stand with victims and families to keep everyone on our reservations and our neighbors throughout Oklahoma safe," CN Attorney General Sara Hill said. "By preparing proactively for case dismissals, expanding our judicial system capacity, and working closely with state, local and federal partners, our tribe has been able to continue to prosecute criminals and ensure continued justice."

The tribe has taken steps to invest in its criminal justice system now that its responsibilities have grown. The Cherokee Nation allocated $10 million to the system, and added eight more marshals to the CN Marshal Service. Two additional district judges, six more prosecutors, and several extra victim advocates have been hired in the recent months.

"The McGirt decision that acknowledged our reservations were never disestablished is the single most impactful ruling in Indian Country in generations," Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. "We continue to work through all the challenges and meet our obligations under McGirt and are working daily to help protect citizens, support victims and families and remain the good partner in Oklahoma that we have always been."

In last month's Tribal Council Rules Committee meeting, At-large Councilor Mary Baker Shaw asked Hill if the tribe could hire state district courts to assist with the prosecution of cases being handed down to the tribe. Hill said there are two barriers preventing that.

"First of all, no Oklahoma court can sit as a Cherokee Nation court," Hill said. "We just can't share authority that way, unless we get the legislation like what we've talked about. We can't make a judge in a district court — a state court — a Cherokee judge, because judges in the Cherokee Nation have to be Cherokee and they have to be appointed by the principal chief and confirmed by the council."

The tribe is pushing for Congress to pass legislation that would allow the Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nations, and the state of Oklahoma to enter into compacts on matters of criminal jurisdiction. Congressman Tom Cole, OK-4, said at the time he proposed the bill to the U.S. House of Representatives that the legislation would give tribes the ability to decide independently whether or not to enter into agreements with the state, free of federal government involvement.