This Supreme Court is as divided and chaotic as the body politic. The 2019 term ended Thursday with a no decision in a case from Oklahoma that could determine the extent of Indian Country.

The court had been expected to rule one way or another on the status of tribal lands in Oklahoma.

“The Creek Nation still holds true to its position that our boundaries have never been dis-established by Congress,” said Creek Nation Ambassador Jonodev Osceola Chaudhuri. “But the practical effect of today's decision is that, just as with the 10th circuit decision, the sky hasn't fallen, and it won't fall regardless of the status of the case before the Supreme Court.”

He said the Creek Nation will continue to work with its governmental partners to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of all within its borders.

“None of that has changed,”Chaudhuri said. “We look forward to reappearing before the Supreme Court to assert our position that our sovereignty continues and continues in keeping with the treaty that was entered into between the Muskogee (Creek) Nation and the United States in 1866.”

It’s rare, but not unprecedented for the Supreme Court to ask for a rehearing. Already in this case the court asked for additional information last December months after the formal oral hearing. The court did not say there was a deadlock in asking for the rehearing.

Justice Neil Gorsuch had participated in a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision last year that the nation’s reservation had not been disestablished by Congress.

The irony is that Justice Gorsuch is the court’s resident expert on Indian law and could have helped the other judges reach a conclusion. It’s expected that Gorsuch will still not participate in a re-hearing of the case, at least directly.

The case involved a murder conviction for Patrick Murphy, a Muscogee (Creek) citizen who appealed his conviction on jurisdictional grounds. 

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Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports