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Oklahoma Tribal Border Battle Set for More Argument Next Term

June 27, 2019, 3:08 PM

The U.S. Supreme Court just set a contentious case about murder and American Indian land for reargument next term after the justices presumably hit a 4-4 deadlock in the case.

The court heard argument in the case in November, but with Justice Neil Gorsuch recused the eight-justice court couldn’t come to agreement in the case involving an Oklahoma death row inmate.

Government lawyers warned that upholding the lower court ruling in his favor would plunge the region into criminal, tax, and regulatory chaos. A high court ruling for Patrick Dwayne Murphy would bring “earth-shattering” consequences, throwing thousands of convictions as well as scores of state laws into doubt, Oklahoma’s lawyer Lisa Blatt, now of Williams & Connolly, argued to the justices in the fall.

Murphy, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, argued the state couldn’t prosecute him because the brutal murder he committed took place on an American Indian reservation rather than on state-controlled land. Congress never “disestablished” the 19th century boundaries of the Creek reservation, he argued.

Murphy was sentenced to death for the 1999 killing of another Creek, George Jacobs, the ex-lover of Murphy’s girlfriend at the time. Jacobs was found in a ditch, dismembered.

The case came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, where Gorsuch sat prior to his high court appointment.

The case is Carpenter v. Murphy, U.S., 17-1107, set for reargument 6/27/19.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan S. Rubin in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at