Last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Creek Nation, that Congress never properly abolished their reservation. The court ruled 5-4 in favor of the Creek Nation and the defendant overturning a rape case of a man convicted in state court of raping a four-year-old girl. The four liberal members of the court were joined by Justice Gorsuch in forming the majority. The four other Conservative Judges dissented. Congressman Tom Cole and former Governor Brad Henry presented an Amicus Brief in favor of the defendant and the Creek Nation.
While the majority opinion asserts that it is a criminal case applying only to criminal prosecutions. The minority opinion lays out its likely use in civil matters. The Declaration that the reservations of five Indian Nations (Creek, Seminole, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw) were never properly abolished by Congress will have far reaching ramifications for business including the oil and gas industry.
There are many questions that will be addressed over time. A few that could affect our industry are:
Will title of property be affected?
Will the Indian Nations begin to tax oil and gas production?
Will the Indian Nations assert regulatory authority over our industry?
What will this mean to economic development?
The Oklahoma Attorney General and others, have been working for some time with the tribes on federal legislation to deal this ruling. More than likely, the “criminal law” piece of this puzzle will be agreed upon and resolved. It is unclear what will happen on the civil side. However, it will take time. Possibly a long time for any changes to occur.
We must follow this closely, stay engaged, and fight to preserve our property.