In a dissent joined by the court’s three liberal members, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that the decision “allows Oklahoma to intrude on a feature of tribal sovereignty recognized since the founding.”
The case highlighted the already strained relationship between Native tribes in Oklahoma and Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt.
But Gorsuch wrote, “One can only hope the political branches and future courts will do their duty to honor this Nation’s promises even as we have failed today to do our own.”
The case stemmed from a state court decision to throw out the conviction against Victor Castro-Huerta, who is not Native American. Castro-Huerta was charged by Oklahoma prosecutors with malnourishment of his disabled 5-year-old stepdaughter, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Castro-Huerta has since pleaded guilty to a federal child neglect charge in exchange for a seven-year prison term, though he has not been formally sentenced yet.
The Supreme Court case involved the Muscogee reservation, but later rulings upheld the historic reservations of other Native American tribes in Oklahoma, including the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Quapaw and Seminole nations.
The Cherokee Nation is the country’s largest Native American tribe by population with about 400,000 citizens, about 261,000 of whom live in Oklahoma.
Native Americans make up just under 10% of Oklahoma’s nearly 4 million people, according to the Census Bureau.