The Commission for the Protection of Cherokee Nation Sovereignty, established by the principal chief after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the McGirt case, has issued its first recommendations on expanding the tribe’s courts, attorneys and marshal service.
In July, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Muscogee Creek Nation’s reservation was never disestablished. The Supreme Court’s reasoning in this case applies to all Five Tribes. Since the Supreme Court’s decision, the Cherokee Nation’s office of the attorney general has identified more than 100 cases that may be dismissed by the state court of appeals and sent to either Cherokee Nation or federal courts for prosecution.
Appellate decisions could come by the end of the year.
McGirt vs. Oklahoma was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States on May 11, during the court’s October 2019-2020 term. The case concerned whether Oklahoma state courts had jurisdiction to try a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation for criminal matters.
On July 9, the court reversed the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in a 5-4 ruling, holding that under the Indian Major Crimes Act, lands reserved for the Creek nation in eastern Oklahoma constituted Indian Country. As a result, the state of Oklahoma could not legally try a Creek citizen for criminal conduct in state court.
Of the CN’s recommendations, Cherokee Nation Attorney General Sara Hill said,
“We must do everything in our power to protect our sovereignty, and we must continue to be ready for the challenges ahead and work with our partners on the ground while preparing to operate and expand our court system to prosecute more of these criminal cases on our lands.”
“First, we must ask the tribal council for an increase in the budget so that we can begin the expansion of our court system, attorneys, marshal service, victim services, detention facilities and other necessary changes as our reservation land is acknowledged by the state and cases involving native perpetrators are dismissed and we begin trying those cases in our tribal courts.”
In order for the expansion and restructuring, the commission recommends:
*A $15.6 million budget increase to restructure and expand the Cherokee Nation court system. It could expand the district court system from one district court to up to 10 separate districts, add security, juvenile court services, technology and more.
*A projected $3.5 million increase for the attorney general’s office for more staffing to prosecute cases.
*Increase the marshal budget and detention costs by an additional $16.25 million. This would add 12 marshals and increase detention facility costs.
*Look at grants or funding for expansion of victim service programs.
*Grants or funding for re-entry type programs.
*Update the Cherokee Nation criminal code to closely align with the Oklahoma Criminal Code so that law and order is consistent and the transition is as seamless as possible for officers, prosecutors, defense attorneys and the court.
*That the principal chief engage with members of Congress who may be contemplating legislation and oppose any legislation that would disestablish tribal reservations.
*That the principal chief discuss with state and federal elected leaders whether or not additional compacts, intergovernmental agreements or MOUs are needed or should be authorized to address civil, criminal and other issues on the Cherokee Reservation.
The commission, which meets monthly, is made up of internal cabinet members, law enforcement, tribal councilors, department heads and judges.
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