EXCLUSIVE: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is sounding the alarm about the effects of a Supreme Court ruling last year that has led to convicted criminals walking free in his state. 

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in the case McGirt v. Oklahoma that a sizable portion of eastern Oklahoma was under the jurisdiction of Native American Tribes, and not the state government, because Congress never legislatively disestablished the state’s Indian reservations when it joined the Union.

The ruling has allowed for a large number of convicted criminals to get a retrial or walk free in the state, as their cases are no longer under Oklahoma’s legal jurisdiction. Their cases are now under tribal and federal jurisdiction.

Stitt – a fourth-generation Oklahoman and Native American by heritage – compared the ruling as "coming into Manhattan, New York City, and people claiming that is now Indian reservation" in a Wednesday interview with Fox News.


"So, literally, we have two million people living in eastern Oklahoma – a million people in the MSA of Tulsa have grown up – and now it's called an Indian reservation," said Stitt. "So, nowhere else is it like this in the United States."

Stitt said a "true reservation" is land that is commonly held by a tribe and that there are people from all walks of life in eastern Oklahoma on land the governor says "has been sold 100 times."

The governor said the ruling raises "serious concerns for public safety," and has caused issues with taxation and regulation within the state. Stitt said the district attorneys and prosecutors in Oklahoma are "pulling their hair out because they can’t prosecute crimes anymore."

"So that's one of the huge problems going on," said Stitt.


Recently, Oklahoma has seen a number of convicted criminals released after appealing their cases under the McGirt ruling. In Tulsa, over 80 people had more than 100 charges – including rape, murder and domestic assault – dropped against them due to the ruling.

Another man in Pontotoc County, Oklahoma, convicted of attempting to rob and murder an 85-year-old man, was set free without chance for retrial after appealing under McGirt, as the statute of limitations against him expired.

"The murderers and criminals being let loose is the biggest thing that’s happening in our state," said Stitt. "It’s a public safety issue that our district attorneys are pulling their hair out [over]. The district attorneys are telling me they’re having to set up agreements with the tribes to house Indians now in our county jails."

"Well, they’re refusing to waive their sovereign immunity," continued Stitt. "So, in other words, there’s no recourse."

"In some cases, like there was a second-degree murder guy that just walked free because the Tribes never filed charges against him," the governor added. "The judges are trying to give leeway, but our district attorneys, their whole job is to protect the citizens."


The governor also said that between "3,000 to 4,000" tribal members in his state are sending in "tax protests" to the state government regarding the ruling and that the Department of the Interior has said the Oklahoma Department of Mines "no longer has authority to regulate mines in eastern Oklahoma."

"The Department of Mines in Oklahoma has been a state agency since before statehood in 1907, and now we’ve just ripped that away and they federalized that with the Indian Tribes now and said the state has no jurisdiction to do mines," said Stitt.

The Interior Department's Bureau of Indian Affairs did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment regarding the case and the Oklahoma Department of Mines' legal jurisdiction.

Stitt believes that there is a "legal path forward" to narrow the ruling to just criminal jurisdiction or "overturn McGirt entirely" by running potential cases "back up the flagpole to the Supreme Court."

The governor referenced a memo obtained by Fox News on the McGirt case from Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman that referenced a similar, previous case: City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York."

Sherrill held that a tribe repurchasing their traditional lands did not return tribal sovereignty to that land. Feldman pointed to the Sherrill case as a potential reason the court would overturn its ruling.

"The main conclusions of this analysis are that the Supreme Court would likely overturn McGirt if a suitable case were brought before it; and that the question of extending McGirt to the civil sphere would be governed by City of Sherrill v. Oneida Indian Nation of New York," wrote Feldman. "... Sherrill held that the tribe could not obtain a federal court judgment barring the city (and thus the state) from taxing or regulating the land in question – even though the land was within an Indian reservation."

"Sherrill remains a good law, despite being criticized by some commentators," continued Feldman. "The Supreme Court cited Sherrill in a recent case, Nebraska v. Parker, to raise the possibility that a tribe might not be able to block state exercise of civil jurisdiction where there had been a 'centuries-long absence' of tribal jurisdiction."

Sherrill held that a tribe repurchasing their traditional lands did not return tribal sovereignty to that land. Feldman pointed to the Sherrill case as a potential reason the court would overturn its ruling.

"So, according to Harvard Law professor Noah Feldman, who is a constitutional law guy, he wrote a 40-page memo that basically explains the argument that was never brought up that we believe is the winning argument to reverse or at least narrow this decision by the court last summer," said the governor.


Stitt told Fox News that he believes the Supreme Court ruling was "100% wrong" and that there's a 50% chance to overturn the ruling.

"I think there’s an 80% chance that it’s at least narrowed to criminal [jurisdiction] – so it very clearly will not bleed into taxation or regulation – but I think there’s a 50/50 chance that they overturn it, because the court got this horribly wrong," said Stitt.