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State's highest court rule tribal compacts valid under state law

Apr. 3—The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday tribal compacts passed by the state's legislature in 2023 were valid and did not infringe on the governor's authority to negotiate with tribal nations in the state.

The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt against Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, and Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka.

Stitt asked the court to rule if the state's legislature had the authority to override his vetoes and extend tribal compacts and maintained the Oklahoma Constitution and statute gives him the sole authority to negotiate, enter, or extend compacts.

Stitt vetoed both bills in May 2023, claiming the bills were not in the state's best interest and violated state law, and said the bills amount "to a circumvention of the executive's authority to negotiate compacts."

Both the Oklahoma House and Senate voted to override HB 1005X and SB 26X in July 2023. HB 1005X dealt with motor vehicle compacts between Oklahoma and tribal nations with SB 26X dealing with tobacco compacts.

Judges ruled the governor's authority to negotiate and enter into State-Tribal compacts is vested by statute, not the constitution.

"Thus, the Governor's general authority is not nullified by the legislative enactment of SB 26x and HB 1005x, rather, the extension offered the Tribes by SB 26x and HB 1005x runs concurrently with the Governor's general authority to enter into State-Tribal Compacts," the court ruled. "We read SB 26x and HB 1005x as the Legislature offering the Tribes the option to extend their compacts while at the same time preserving the Governor's general authority to negotiate and enter into new statutory compacts. We hold the passage of SB 26x and HB 1005x was not an infringement on the Governor's general authority to negotiate and enter into State-Tribal compacts."

Stitt said in a statement he believed the decision gives future governors "clarity" around compact negotiations.

"Regardless of the outcome of this case, Oklahoma knows that I am a Governor that is going to stand up for fairness for all four million Oklahomans," Stitt said.

Oklahoma Attorney General Gentner Drummond said he was honored to represent the Legislature "in their efforts to uphold Oklahoma law" and that he was pleased with the ruling.

"Gov. Stitt has repeatedly abused his office to wage baseless legal battles against our Native American tribes, wasting millions of dollars in state resources," Drummond said. "This ruling makes clear that the Governor's compacting authority is statutory only, subject to intervention by the Legislature when the Governor fails or refuses to act in the best interest of all four million Oklahomans."

Choctaw Nation Chief Gary Batton said he welcomed the clarity given by the ruling and hoped it will help state officials come to an agreement with the southeastern Oklahoma tribal nation.

"Our focus is on crafting policies and compacts that mutually benefit our tribe, our members, our communities and all Oklahomans.," Batton said.

The compacts are currently set to expire on Dec. 31, 2024.