COVID-19 Special Coverage
Supreme Court hears arguments on tribal land jurisdiction and religious school employment discrimination
272447 / Pixabay
Supreme Court hears arguments on tribal land jurisdiction and religious school employment discrimination

The US Supreme Court heard remote oral arguments on Monday in cases involving a state’s jurisdiction on Native American lands for crimes committed and employment discrimination in religious schools.

McGirt v. Oklahoma which asks whether the state of Oklahoma has the jurisdiction to prosecute a crime committed within the historical boundaries of a reservation. In the petitioner’s brief, they took historical context of this case back to the Trail of Tears, in which the Creek Nation tribe was pushed from its original land in Alabama and Georgia. In this case, the petitioner, Jimcy McGirt, a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, was convicted of sexual assault crimes and sentenced by an Oklahoma court.

The Petitioner argues that Congress, pursuant to the Indian Major Crimes Act, states that major crimes are under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts. The respondent, the State of Oklahoma, makes three points to support their claim that they have jurisdiction. Those points are that the tribal lands were never classified as a reservation but as a “dependent Indian community,” Congress provided the state with jurisdiction over tribal lands when it granted statehood, and that Congress has disestablished any Creek reservation.

This case will have important implications on state, federal and tribal dynamics in criminal cases, as well as other regulatory schemes.

The second case the court heard is Our Land of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru. This case comprises two cases in which religious schools fired fifth-grade teachers. In the case involving Morrissey-Berru, she alleges that she was fired because of age discrimination, and in the case involve Biel, she alleges that she was discriminated against because she had cancer. The religious schools rely on the Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC, in which the court recognized a “ministerial exception” to employment discrimination. The primary question in Our Lady of Guadalupe School is, “who is a minister?” The religious schools are claiming that teachers or anyone who teaches religious doctrine is a minister and the exception should apply.

The schools, in this case, are just a few miles away from each other in California. The district court agreed with the schools, but the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit disagreed with the district court, saying that the exception only applied to a religious leadership role.

This case will play an important role in shaping employment discrimination law.

Decisions are expected this summer.