WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Oklahoma governor, attorney general and solicitor general gave Fox News an inside look into their arguments in their U.S. Supreme Court case over state sovereignty.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in a case regarding whether Oklahoma has the authority to prosecute non-Indians who commit crimes on reservations against Indians. The state argued that it should be allowed to serve justice for its citizens and that the federal and tribal governments can’t keep up with the number of crimes committed. Oklahoma tribes have said those claims are untrue and undermine tribal sovereignty.
FILE – Visitors walk outside the Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 21, 2022. The Supreme Court on Wednesday, April 6, 2022, reinstated for now a Trump-era rule that had curtailed the power of states and Native American tribes to block pipelines and other energy projects that can pollute rivers, streams and other waterways. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
“We have crimes without punishment. We have victims without justice,” Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor told Fox News. “If somebody steals the car of a Native American, they might as well forget it because there’s no law enforcement that’s going to be able to come and help them because the state of Oklahoma can’t.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt told Fox News: “We’re asking the Supreme Court for the authority to protect law and order in Oklahoma. We have lost the ability, as a state, to prosecute crimes when there’s a native victim.”
“We want to be able to protect every single person in eastern Oklahoma regardless of their race,” he said. “The state should be able to prosecute those crimes, and right now we have simply lost that jurisdiction.”
Oklahoma Governor Stitt and Oklahoma Attorney General O’Connor listen to the Supreme Court’s oral arguments on Wednesday. (Fox News Digital/Jon Michael Raasch)
The case, Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, centers on Victor Castro-Huerta, a non-native who was convicted in an Oklahoma Court of neglecting his 5-year-old Native American stepdaughter while living on the Cherokee Nation reservation. The state’s highest criminal appeals court overturned Castro-Huerta’s conviction in 2021, finding that Oklahoma lacked jurisdiction.
Oklahoma Solicitor General Mithun Mansinghani, who attended Wednesday’s hearing, left feeling optimistic that the Court would side with the state.
“I think the justices were very engaged with the arguments here,” he told Fox News. “And because we’re confident that we’re right in the law, I’m confident that the justices will see it our way.”
Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr., however, felt the law was on the tribal government’s side.
“Congress has been clear on the limits of state jurisdiction on our reservations, and Governor Stitt’s anti-tribal views don’t change those facts,” Hoskin said in a statement released after the oral arguments.
“While tribes have worked closely with our partners to meet our public safety responsibilities and provide a blanket of protection to everyone on our reservation, it’s unfortunate that the state has wasted time and resources attacking our rights and sovereignty,” the statement continued.
Justices are expected to issue a ruling by the end of June.
Lisa Bennatan is an associate producer/writer for Fox News Digital Originals. Follow her on Twitter @LisaBennatan and Instagram @Lisa_Bennatan