“I think the key continues to be legislative reform. And so to that end, there’s already work underway, started on the VAWA reauthorization for 2018 to enhance or restore even more authority to tribal courts…” – Muscogee (Creek) attorney Sarah Deer
Deer discusses personal impact on case and its broader significance
OKMULGEE, Okla. — Muscogee (Creek) attorney Sarah Deer represented over 100 women’s organizations as interested parties in the Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians U.S. Supreme Court case by co-authoring an amicus brief on the proceedings.
“If the court only hears from, in this case the Choctaw tribe and the Dollar General Corporation, there’s a lot of people who will be impacted by the outcome even though they’re not technically a party to the suit,” Deer said.
According to previous ‘Muscogee Nation News’ coverage, the case involves a minor that was sexually assaulted by a store manager while employed at a Dollar General store, which is located on the tribe’s reservation through a lease agreement to operate on tribal land.
The corporation challenged the tribe’s jurisdiction on the case.
Court decisions on issues like this establish legal precedent that could have an impact on the outcome of similar cases in the future.
“What we hope to do is get the court to talk about the importance of tribal sovereignty, the importance of victims’ issues so that then becomes law in terms of case law in the United States,” Deer said.
Deer said this effort did not have the range of impact she had hoped due to the way the case was decided.
“Unfortunately, because there wasn’t an opinion issued in Dollar General, we don’t have anything on the record in terms of what our amicus brief might have contributed but we know that it didn’t obviously convince everybody on the court, which is why we had a tie,” she said.
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 4-4 opinion June 23 on a previous decision by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of the Choctaw.
“…Unfortunately, this tie only makes the victory for the tribe relevant in the fifth circuit and there’re only a few tribes in the fifth circuit,” Deer said.
Deer was active in an effort to include provisions in the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that allow tribes to prosecute non-Native-on-Native domestic violence occurring on their lands.
This was successful and Deer said despite the limited scope of influence in this recent ruling, the next step in advocacy is reauthorization of VAWA in 2018.
“I think the key continues to be legislative reform. And so to that end, there’s already work underway, started on the VAWA reauthorization for 2018 to enhance or restore even more authority to tribal courts to take on more cases and I think importantly is funding provisions to assist tribes in being able to run a powerful criminal justice system on our own terms,” she said.
Deer explained that in the Choctaw case, they had no criminal jurisdiction over the Dollar General employee because he was not a tribal citizen.
‘The federal government would have jurisdiction under the Major Crimes Act because the crime happened on Choctaw land. We don’t know why the federal government declined to pursue a criminal case. So, having no opportunities for criminal justice, the family filed a civil lawsuit against Dollar General,’ she explained in a written statement.
The case began in 2003, prior to the key VAWA reauthorization.
Deer stated that even with this legislation, the tribe would still have been unable to pursue criminal charges.
‘VAWA2013 is limited to domestic violence only,’ the statement went on. ‘The perpetrator and victim have to have an intimate partner (marriage/dating) relationship. VAWA2013 does not give the tribes the right to prosecute non-Indians who commit child abuse.’
Deer still views the decision as a victory however.
“It was thrilling and a release when we found out that the opinion was tied,” she said. “A lot of us that worked on the case were texting each other as the decision was announced and really celebrating the narrow victory that we have here.”2 comments