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Justice Department Moves to Intervene as Plaintiff-Intervenor in Muscogee (Creek) Nation's Lawsuit Against Tulsa Alleging the City Has Unlawfully Asserted Criminal Jurisdiction Against Tribal Members

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department, on behalf of the Department of the Interior, filed a motion to intervene today in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s lawsuit against the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, and its mayor, chief of police and city attorney in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma. The Justice Department also filed a proposed complaint against Tulsa, alleging that it has unlawfully asserted criminal jurisdiction against tribal members within the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation.

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation filed its complaint against Tulsa on Nov. 11, 2023, after Tulsa continued to prosecute tribal members within the reservation for alleged violations of Tulsa’s traffic ordinances. The city has used those court prosecutions to argue it has criminal jurisdiction over Indians in Indian country.

The Justice Department’s motion to intervene and proposed complaint argue that Tulsa’s assertion of jurisdiction violates fundamental principles of federal Indian law that are rooted in the Constitution and were reaffirmed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma. The filings say that these principles bar states and their political subdivisions from exercising criminal jurisdiction over Indians in Indian country unless Congress expressly authorizes it, which it has not done in this instance, leaving the United States and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation with exclusive criminal jurisdiction over Indians in Indian country.

The motion to intervene and proposed complaint outline the United States’ governmental interest, in this and similar cases, in supporting the inherent sovereign power of all federally recognized tribes to exercise criminal jurisdiction over Indians for conduct occurring on their reservations, and in defending Congress’ plenary and exclusive authority over Indian affairs. The filings also cite the 1832 Treaty with the Creeks that no “State or Territory [shall] ever have a right to pass laws for the government of such Indians, but they shall be allowed to govern themselves.”

Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division made the announcement.

The Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Indian Resources Section is handling the case.

 

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