While Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has said he intends to continue fighting the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the McGirt case, his brother has been fighting a different battle.
Marvin Keith Stitt, 51, who goes by Keith, asked the Tulsa Municipal Court on Wednesday to dismiss a speeding ticket he received in February because he is a member of the Cherokee Nation. A copy of his Cherokee identification card is included in the court filing, showing he became an enrolled member of the tribe in 1992.
The motion claims the City of Tulsa has no right to prosecute Native Americans for municipal violations on tribal land after the landmark McGirt U.S. Supreme Court decision. The 2020 Supreme Court decision held that Congress never dismantled the Muscogee Nation reservation and that much of the eastern part of the state remains Indian land.
Kevin Stitt is also an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. The governor’s office did not respond to requests for comment late Wednesday.
Attorneys Sabah Khalaf and Brett Chapman filed the motion on behalf of the governor’s brother. Chapman is a Tulsa-based criminal defense and civil rights attorney who routinely advocates on issues of tribal sovereignty and other American Indian issues including the return of historical relics and the use of Native American athletic mascots.
Chapman is a descendant of Ponca Chief White Eagle. His Ponca ancestors were involved in a landmark civil rights case in 1879 in which the first Native American was granted civil rights in the United States.
Chapman said in a statement to The Frontier that everyone “has the right to have their case heard before the correct court with proper jurisdiction.”
“For the enrolled citizens of the 574 federally recognized Native American nations accused of violating the law in this part of Oklahoma, the proper jurisdiction is never in state or city court. The Supreme Court made this very clear in the landmark McGirt ruling. We look forward to rectifying this,” Chapman said.
The City of Tulsa has continued to prosecute tribal citizens in municipal court after the McGirt ruling by leaning on a pre-statehood law that gave towns and cities civil and criminal jurisdiction over residents’ cases regardless of tribal affiliation. Tulsa Municipal Chief Judge Mitchell McCune issued the ruling that applies the Curtis Act to municipal courts on Feb. 2, 2021 — one day before Keith Stitt received the speeding ticket in Tulsa, according to Wednesday’s filing. Keith Stitt is an attorney at Colonial Title Inc., in Tulsa.
After the McGirt decision, Oklahoma courts extended ruling to the four other tribes that make up the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes” in eastern and southern Oklahoma — the Cherokee Nation, Muscogee Nation, Chickasaw Nation, the Choctaw Nation and the Seminole Nation. In October 2021, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals extended the ruling to the Quapaw Nation as well.
The fallout from the McGirt ruling has led to new strain on relations between the tribes and the Stitt administration, which were already frayed following a contentious series of battles over the state’s tribal gaming compact.
During his State of the State speech in February, Stitt called the McGirt ruling one of the biggest threats facing the state. A McGirt forum in July Stitt organized featuring state and local law enforcement was cut short after tribal citizens showed up in force to protest.
Last week, Stitt announced he had decided against renewing hunting and fishing compacts with Cherokee and Choctaw tribes, a move some have said may cost the state millions of dollars in federal funding for the state’s wildlife department. The Cherokee and Choctaw tribes agreed to buy 200,000 of the licenses every year for $2 plus fees under the deal. The compact was celebrated by the tribes and state officials it was signed in 2015.
Stitt said in a statement following the hunting and fishing compact announcement that he believed “all Oklahomans should receive equal treatment under the law.”
Earlier this week, The Oklahoman reported Stitt and many Tribal leaders have not met in person since February.
Since the death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in late 2020, and the confirmation of her replacement, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the state has sought to take the matter back to the high court in hopes of having the McGirt ruling overturned. The main case the state is hoping to use to overturn the decision, State of Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, is scheduled for conference, where the justices will decide whether to take the case up, at the Supreme Court on Jan. 7.
In that case, the City of Tulsa, along with the City of Owasso, submitted an amicus brief backing the state’s position that McGirt should be overturned, saying the ruling has hindered municipalities ability to arrest and charge criminal acts, and has the potential to harm the state and local governments if tribal citizens refuse to pay taxes because of their tribal citizenship.