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SCOTUS limits 2020 ruling on tribal lands in Oklahoma

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that states can prosecute non-Native Americans for crimes committed on tribal land when the victim is Native American. 

The decision narrows the effect of the court’s own landmark ruling in 2020, which had blocked state authorities in Oklahoma from prosecuting some crimes on tribal land. Wednesday’s decision — involving a non-Indian man named Manuel Castro-Huerta — gives more power to state authorities and is seen by some as a setback for tribal sovereignty.

But as ASU law professor and Eastern Shawnee Tribe citizen Robert Miller explains that this really doesn’t change tribal jurisdiction at all.

“Tribal governments have no criminal jurisdiction over non-Indians. So the tribal government could not prosecute Mr. Carlos Huerta for his crime because he’s not an Indian," Miller said. 

Miller says the ruling could change dynamics on reservations as the state enforces its jurisdiction, but it doesn’t change the power held by tribal governments.

Athena Ankrah is an assistant producer for KJZZ's The Show.Ankrah graduated from Arizona State University in 2023 with a bachelor’s in journalism and a second degree in Chicano media and expressive culture.