Governance & Membership
President's Message - March 2022
Once in a Lifetime
By Jim Hicks
In July 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Congress never disestablished the reservation status of the Five Civilized Tribes. The decision fundamentally changed how Native American defendants are prosecuted for crimes occurring within the historical boundaries of the reservations. The case revolved around Jimcy McGirt and resulted in the determination that state courts had no authority to try him for a crime committed on reservation land that belongs to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. The unfolding practical applications of this historic ruling are expanding exponentially in the state, federal and tribal court systems. This issue of the Oklahoma Bar Journal is dedicated to the impact of the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision.
I recently read an interesting article by Marc Cenedella arguing that American crises come every 80 years. The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II and the pandemic are approximately 80 years apart, the lifespan of a human being and the limit of personal memory and experience. Mr. Cenedella argues that each crisis changed our economy and society in deep and fundamental ways. Each was caused by our nation’s changing position in the world and contradictions between our long-standing values and emerging facts. The results of each were fundamental changes in our economy, our way of life and our place among the nations of the world.
In 1781, the surrender of Lord Cornwallis to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, ended the Revolutionary War and led to the establishment of an independent nation free from the subjugation of Great Britain. In 1861, the Civil War resulted from a nation divided by the Declaration of Independence’s promise that “all men are created equal” and the Constitution’s compromise on the horrific reality of slavery. The result was the emancipation of millions of individuals formerly held in bondage. In 1941, the global conflict of World War II resulted in the emergence of the United States as the preeminent superpower in the world. Each crisis and its resulting effects changed the lives of so many in profound and unforeseen ways.
In 2021, we again faced a national crisis due to the continuing worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. In Oklahoma, state courts have increasingly switched to videoconferencing in place of in-person court appearances. The federal courts have been swamped with criminal matters previously handled in the state courts. The tribal courts have expanded to handle the wave of new cases. Given these historic changes, every attorney should read this month’s Access to Justice article “COVID-19 and Omicron Won’t Stop Access to the Courts,” authored by Judge Thad Balkman and Judge Richard Ogden on page 34. With the far-reaching implications of the McGirt decision and the unprecedented changes to the practice of law arising out of the exigent circumstances of the pandemic, we have become a new association, a different society and an altered people. These events are arguably “once in a lifetime” circumstances, and our profession has risen to the changing tide of values and facts.
President Hicks practices in Tulsa.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 93 Vol 3 (March 2022).