Supreme Court hears arguments on Oklahoma jurisdiction in ‘Indian territory’
November 28, 2018
The US Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in a case concerning an appeal of class action status and a capital case challenging Oklahoma’s jurisdiction over a crime committed in Native American territory.
The first case, Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, concerns the application of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 23(f), which several courts have interpreted differently. The question before the court is whether equitable exceptions apply to mandatory deadlines in filing a timely notice of appeal. Rule 23(f) requires a party seeking class-action status to appeal an order revoking class-action status within 14 days of the order.
Nutraceutical, the petitioner, argued that since this is a procedural rule and the primary purpose is to regulate court procedure for consistency and efficiency, untimely filed appeals cannot be accepted for review. Lambert argued that his conduct between the order revoking class-action status and the appeal, in-fact stalled the clock thus making the appeal timely. Between the initial order and Lambert’s petition for appeal, he verbally requested the court to reconsider the order and filed a motion for reconsideration of class status, which the court also denied.
The second case, Carpenter v. Murphy, is a capital case unlike any other recently before the court. In this case, Carpenter was convicted of murder in Oklahoma and sentenced to death. Carpenter challenges the conviction saying that he committed the murder in Native American territory and thus should have been tried in federal, not state court, since the territory is not Oklahoma’s jurisdiction.
The question before the court is: “Whether the 1866 territorial boundaries of the Creek Nation within the former Indian Territory of eastern Oklahoma constitute an “Indian reservation” today under 18 USC § 1151(a).” That provision states: “the term ‘Indian country’ … means (a) all land within the limits of any Indian reservation under the jurisdiction of the United States Government, notwithstanding the issuance of any patent, and, including rights-of-way running through the reservation.”
The state of Oklahoma, the petitioner, argued that Eastern Oklahoma is not “Indian” territory as defined in the statute and recognized in case law, saying: “First, Congress destroyed all features of a reservation by terminating all sovereignty over the land in the march up to statehood. Second, Solem is not to the contrary. And, third, affirmance would immediately trigger a seismic shift in criminal and civil jurisdiction.” Carpenter responded with a different interpretation of Congress’s act is creating the State of Oklahoma, saying:
What Congress was doing here was … transforming a territory to a state. And in order to do that, Congress broke up the national domain of the tribes. They had been independent nations, and it was a territory, the tribal domain was the territorial domain. Congress, as it always does in transforming a territory to a state, changed the territorial domain from here the tribes to the state. And then it vested the governmental authority over that domain in the state because that domain had become the states, the general governmental authority.
If the court upholds the circuit court’s order in favor of Carpenter, then nearly half of Oklahoma would be considered an Indian reservation.