Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta

Certiorari To The Court Of Criminal Appeals Of Oklahoma

No. 21–429. Argued April 27, 2022—Decided June 29, 2022

In 2015, respondent Victor Manuel Castro-Huerta was charged by the State of Oklahoma for child neglect. Castro-Huerta was convicted in state court and sentenced to 35 years of imprisonment. While Castro-Huerta’s state-court appeal was pending, this Court decided McGirt v. Oklahoma, 591 U. S. ___. There, the Court held that the Creek Nation’s reservation in eastern Oklahoma had never been properly disestablished and therefore remained “Indian country.” Id., at ___. In light of McGirt, the eastern part of Oklahoma, including Tulsa, is recognized as Indian country. Following this development, Castro-Huerta argued that the Federal Government had exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute him (a non-Indian) for a crime committed against his stepdaughter (a Cherokee Indian) in Tulsa (Indian country), and that the State therefore lacked jurisdiction to prosecute him. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and vacated his conviction. This Court granted certiorari to determine the extent of a State’s jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country.

Held: The Federal Government and the State have concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. Pp. 4–25.

 (a) The jurisdictional dispute in this case arises because Oklahoma’s territory includes Indian country. In the early Republic, the Federal Government sometimes treated Indian country as separate from state territory. See Worcester v. Georgia, 6 Pet. 515. But that view has long since been abandoned. Organized Village of Kake v. Egan, 369 U. S. 60, 72. And the Court has specifically held that States have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against non-Indians in Indian country. United States v. McBratney, 104 U. S. 621; see also Draper v. United States, 164 U. S. 240, 244–247. Accordingly, States have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed in Indian country unless preempted. Pp. 4–6.

 (b) Under Court precedent, a State’s jurisdiction in Indian country may be preempted by federal law under ordinary principles of federal preemption, or when the exercise of state jurisdiction would unlawfully infringe on tribal self-government. Neither serves to preempt state jurisdiction in this case. Pp. 6–20.

  (1) Castro-Huerta points to two federal laws—the General Crimes Act and Public Law 280—that, in his view, preempt Oklahoma’s authority to prosecute crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. Neither statute, however, preempts the State’s jurisdiction. Pp. 7–18.

   (i) The General Crimes Act does not preempt state authority to prosecute Castro-Huerta’s crime. It provides that “the general laws of the United States as to the punishment of offenses committed . . . within the sole and exclusive jurisdiction of the United States . . . shall extend to the Indian country.” 18 U. S. C. §1152. By its terms, the Act simply “extend[s]” the federal laws that apply on federal enclaves to Indian country. The Act does not say that Indian country is equivalent to a federal enclave for jurisdictional purposes, that federal jurisdiction is exclusive in Indian country, or that state jurisdiction is preempted in Indian country.

 Castro-Huerta claims that the General Crimes Act does indeed make Indian country the jurisdictional equivalent of a federal enclave. Castro-Huerta is wrong as a matter of text and precedent.

 Pointing to the history of territorial separation and Congress’s reenactment of the General Crimes Act after this Court suggested in dicta in Williams v. United States, 327 U. S. 711, 714, that States lack jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country, Castro-Huerta argues that Congress implicitly intended for the Act to provide the Federal Government with exclusive jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. But the text of the Act says no such thing; the idea of territorial separation has long since been abandoned; and the reenactment canon cannot be invoked to override clear statutory language of the kind present in the General Crimes Act. Castro-Huerta notes that the Court has repeated the Williams dicta on subsequent occasions, but even repeated dicta does not constitute precedent and does not alter the plain text of the General Crimes Act. Pp. 7–16.

   (ii) Castro-Huerta’s attempt to invoke Public Law 280, 67 Stat. 588, is also unpersuasive. That law affirmatively grants certain States (and allows other States to acquire) broad jurisdiction to prosecute state-law offenses committed by or against Indians in Indian country. 18 U. S. C. §1162; 25 U. S. C. §1321. Castro-Huerta contends that the law’s enactment in 1953 would have been pointless surplusage if States already had concurrent jurisdiction over crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. But Public Law 280 contains no language preempting state jurisdiction. And Public Law 280 encompasses far more than just non-Indian on Indian crimes. Thus, resolution of the narrow jurisdictional issue here does not negate the significance of Public Law 280. Pp. 16–18.

  (2) The test articulated in White Mountain Apache Tribe v. Bracker, 448 U. S. 136, does not bar the State from prosecuting crimes committed by non-Indians against Indians in Indian country. There, the Court held that even when federal law does not preempt state jurisdiction under ordinary preemption analysis, preemption may still occur if the exercise of state jurisdiction would unlawfully infringe upon tribal self-government. Id., at 142–143. Under Bracker’s balancing test, the Court considers tribal interests, federal interests, and state interests. Id., at 145. Here, the exercise of state jurisdiction would not infringe on tribal self-government. And because a State’s jurisdiction is concurrent with federal jurisdiction, a state prosecution would not preclude an earlier or later federal prosecution. Finally, the State has a strong sovereign interest in ensuring public safety and criminal justice within its territory, including an interest in protecting both Indian and non-Indian crime victims. Pp. 18–20.

 (c) This Court has long held that Indian country is part of a State, not separate from it. Under the Constitution, States have jurisdiction to prosecute crimes within their territory except when preempted by federal law or by principles of tribal self-government. The default is that States have criminal jurisdiction in Indian country unless that jurisdiction is preempted. And that jurisdiction has not been preempted here. Pp. 21–25.

Reversed and remanded.

 Kavanaugh, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Thomas, Alito, and Barrett, JJ., joined. Gorsuch, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined.

Torres v. Texas Department of Public Safety

Certiorari To The Court Of Appeals Of Texas, Thirteenth District

No. 20–603. Argued March 29, 2022—Decided June 29, 2022

Article I of the Constitution grants Congress the power “[t]o raise and support Armies” and “[t]o provide and maintain a Navy.” §8, cls. 1, 12–13. Pursuant to that authority, Congress enacted the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), which gives returning servicemembers the right to reclaim their prior jobs with state employers and authorizes suit if those employers refuse to accommodate veterans’ service-related disabilities. See 38 U. S. C. §4301 et seq. Petitioner Le Roy Torres enlisted in the Army Reserves in 1989. In 2007, he was called to active duty and deployed to Iraq. While serving, Torres was exposed to toxic burn pits, a method of garbage disposal that sets open fire to all manner of trash, human waste, and military equipment. Torres received an honorable discharge. But he returned home with constrictive bronchitis, a respiratory condition that narrowed his airways and made breathing difficult. These ailments, Torres says, left him unable to work his old job as a state trooper. Torres asked his former employer, respondent Texas Department of Public Safety (Texas), to accommodate his condition by reemploying him in a different role. Texas refused. So Torres sued Texas in state court to enforce his rights under USERRA. §4313(a)(3). Texas tried to dismiss the suit by invoking sovereign immunity. The trial court denied the State’s motion. An intermediate appellate court reversed, reasoning that, under this Court’s case law, Congress could not authorize private suits against nonconsenting States pursuant to its Article I powers except under the Bankruptcy Clause, citing Central Va. Community College v. Katz, 546 U. S. 356. The Supreme Court of Texas denied discretionary review. After the decision below, this Court issued PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey, 594 U. S. ___. PennEast held that the States waived their sovereign immunity as to the federal eminent domain power pursuant to the “plan of the Convention.” The Court then granted Torres’ petition for certiorari to determine whether, in light of that intervening ruling, USERRA’s damages remedy against state employers is constitutional.

Held: By ratifying the Constitution, the States agreed their sovereignty would yield to the national power to raise and support the Armed Forces. Congress may exercise this power to authorize private damages suits against nonconsenting States, as in USERRA. Pp. 3–16.

  (a) While courts generally may not hear private suits against nonconsenting States, see Blatchford v. Native Village of Noatak, 501 U. S. 775, 779, the States remain subject to suit in certain circumstances. States may consent to suit, see Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U. S. 277, 284; Congress may abrogate States’ immunity under the Fourteenth Amendment, see Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U. S. 445, 456; and, as relevant here, States may be sued if they agreed their sovereignty would yield to the exercise of a particular federal power as part of the “plan of the Convention,” PennEast, 594 U. S., at ___—that is, if “the structure of the original Constitution itself” reflects a waiver of States’ immunity, Alden v. Maine, 527 U. S. 706, 728.

  Consistent with these principles, the Court long ago found structural waiver as to suits between States, see South Dakota v. North Carolina, 192 U. S. 286, and suits by the United States against a State, see United States v. Texas, 143 U. S. 621. A century later, in Central Va. Community College v. Katz, 546 U. S. 356, the Court recognized another structural waiver, holding that Congress may authorize private suits against States under the Bankruptcy Clause. For several years, both before and after Katz, the Court declined to acknowledge additional waivers of sovereign immunity under Congress’ Article I powers or to find Article I authority to abrogate immunity. See, e.g., Seminole Tribe of Fla. v. Florida, 517 U. S. 44; Florida Prepaid Postsecondary Ed. Expense Bd. v. College Savings Bank, 527 U. S. 627. Last Term, in PennEast, the Court considered whether Congress could, pursuant to its eminent domain power, authorize private suits against States to enforce federally approved condemnations necessary to build interstate pipelines. PennEast held that Congress could authorize such suits because, upon entering the federal system, the States implicitly agreed their “eminent domain power would yield to that of the Federal Government.” 594 U. S., at ___. PennEast defined the test for structural waiver as whether the federal power is “complete in itself, and the States consented to the exercise of that power—in its entirety—in the plan of the Convention.” Id., at ___. Pp. 4–6.

  (b) Congress’ power to build and maintain the Armed Forces fits PennEast’s test, as the Constitution’s text, its history, and this Court’s precedents show. To begin, the Constitution’s text strongly suggests a complete delegation of authority to the Federal Government to provide for the common defense. Article I spells out Congress’ many related powers across multiple provisions, §8, cls. 1, 11–16; Article II makes the President the “Commander in Chief,” §2, cl. 1; and Article IV charges the Federal Government with “protect[ing]” States “against Invasion,” §4. The Constitution also divests the States of like authority, see Art. I, §10, cls. 1, 3, assigning them only a limited role in “the Appointment of the Officers” to and the “training [of] the Militia,” “according to the discipline prescribed by Congress,” §8, cl. 16. History teaches the same lesson. “[T]he want of power in Congress to raise an army” under the Articles of Confederation had left the National Government “dependen[t] upon the States” to supply military forces via a system of quotas and requisition that had nearly cost the fledging Nation victory in the Revolutionary War. Selective Draft Law Cases, 245 U. S. 366, 381. The Constitution, by design, worked “an entire change in the first principles of the system,” giving Congress direct power over the “formation, direction or support of the NATIONAL FORCES.” The Federalist No. 23, p. 148 (A. Hamilton). By ratifying that document, the States well knew that their sovereignty would give way to national policy to build and maintain the Armed Forces. Consistent with this structural understanding, Congress has long legislated regarding military forces at the expense of state sovereignty. See, e.g., 1 Stat. 182. This Court’s precedents likewise show that ordinary background principles of state sovereignty are displaced in this uniquely federal area. See, e.g., Tarble’s Case, 13 Wall. 397, 398 (the “National government[’s] . . . power ‘to raise and support armies’ ” cannot be “question[ed by] any State authority”); United States v. Oregon, 366 U. S. 643, 648–649 (authority “normally left to the States” is displaced by Congress’ “constitutional powers to raise armies and navies”).

  Under PennEast’s test, Congress’ power to build and maintain a national military is “complete in itself”: Upon entering the Union, the States agreed that their sovereignty would “yield . . . so far as is necessary” to federal policy for the Armed Forces. 594 U. S., at ___. Because the States committed not to “thwart” this federal power, “[t]he consent of a State,” including to suit, “can never be a condition precedent” to Congress’ chosen exercise. Id., at ___. Pp. 6–12.

  (c) No contention to the contrary persuades the Court otherwise. The categorical claim that Congress may not exercise its Article I powers to abrogate state sovereign immunity ignores the fact that “congressional abrogation is not the only means of subjecting States to suit. . . . States can also be sued if they have consented to suit in the plan of the Convention.” PennEast, 594 U. S., at ___. Nor is USERRA’s text insufficiently clear to displace potential immunity under Texas law. USERRA expressly “supersedes any State law . . . that reduces, limits, or eliminates in any manner any right or benefit provided by this chapter, including the establishment of additional prerequisites to the exercise of any such right or the receipt of any such benefit.” §4302(b). Neither Seminole Tribe nor Alden compels a different result. Congress’ commerce powers, at issue in Seminole Tribe, are distinguishable from its war powers under PennEast’s “complete in itself” inquiry. And in Alden, the Court expressly embraced “ ‘the postulate that States . . . shall be immune from suits, without their consent, save where there has been “a surrender of this immunity in the plan of the convention.” ’ ” 527 U. S., at 730 (emphasis added). That “save where” proviso recognizes exceptions for structural waivers, supplying the basis for the Court’s decisions in PennEast and Katz, as well as the decision today. Finally, the idea that PennEast and Katz involved in rem actions and the fact that USERRA suits lack a certain founding-era pedigree do not make a difference under PennEast’s basic reasoning.

  The Court therefore holds that, in joining together to form a Union, the States agreed to sacrifice their sovereign immunity for the good of the common defense. Pp. 12–16.

583 S. W. 3d 221, reversed and remanded.

 Breyer, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Sotomayor, Kagan, and Kavanaugh, JJ., joined. Kagan, J., filed a concurring opinion. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Alito, Gorsuch, and Barrett, JJ., joined.