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Breaking Down Tulsa’s Native American Traffic Laws & Supreme Court Verdict

The complex landscape of tribal sovereignty and local jurisdiction is a topic the U.S. has grappled with for years. Recently, the city of Tulsa was under the microscope as the Supreme Court weighed in on its ability to enforce municipal ordinances against Native Americans. The outcome of this decision is intertwined with historical context, recent legal precedents and a shifting understanding of rights and governance in Oklahoma.

Embedded in this unfolding legal drama is the 2020 landmark ruling, McGirt v. Oklahoma, which reaffirmed vast tracts of eastern Oklahoma, including Tulsa, as Native American lands. This recognition, while vital for tribal sovereignty, posed questions about the limits of city authority, mainly when dealing with tribal members.

Tulsa’s traffic citation sparks debate

Emerging from this backdrop was the case of Justin Hooper, a member of the Choctaw Nation. He took issue with a $150 fine from Tulsa’s municipal court, asserting that, based on the McGirt decision, the city lacked jurisdiction over him as a Native American. This case became a focal point, showcasing the challenges posed by the 2020 ruling.

Citing the Curtis Act as a defense

In their defense, Tulsa officials pointed to the Curtis Act of 1898. Before Oklahoma’s statehood, this law granted specific legal powers to cities within Indian territories. Tulsa argued that this act gave them the necessary jurisdiction, even within recognized tribal lands.

Seeking collaborative solutions

Amidst the legal battle, there were constructive suggestions. Tribes proposed expanding existing cross-deputization agreements. This would mean citations issued by city police against tribal members would get referred to the relevant tribe for action. The arrangement even suggested the majority of the citation revenue would revert to the city, promoting collaboration.

A precedent with broader implications

Beyond city citations, the McGirt ruling has broader ramifications. While tribes viewed it as a significant victory, not everyone agreed. Concerns over the potential for disrupted law and order in eastern Oklahoma emerged. Subsequent decisions, like a 2022 Supreme Court ruling, further muddied the waters, seeming to counteract the breadth of the McGirt decision.

This decision has significant implications in the area. Because it’s a matter that has the prospect of frequent updates and rulings, it’s critical to seek legal guidance concerning how its impacts may affect you.


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