A decision by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, rejecting Gov. Kevin Stitt's attempt to circumvent the legislative branch and ignore existing gaming compacts with numerous tribes represents a victory for the rule of law.
It also confirms what most everybody but the governor and his advisers already knew: the state's top executive lacks the authority to unilaterally negotiate and execute gaming compacts that include terms prohibited by law. Compacts negotiated with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe purportedly authorized house-banked card games and event wagering.
The governor's side deals with leaders of these two tribes appear to be nothing more than a naked attempt to divide tribes that had united in opposition to Stitt's demand to negotiate new terms before renewing existing compacts. Tribal leaders cited automatic renewal provisions that would extend the state gaming compacts, the terms of which could have been renegotiated had Stitt decided to work with the tribes rather than try to divide and conquer them.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, along with legislative leaders who sued the governor, "argued all along, the governor lacks the authority to enter into and bind the state to compacts with Indian tribes that authorize gaming activity prohibited by state law." Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said when the compacts were signed they have "no legal basis" and are "wholly unhelpful to the process of reaching a win-win compact for the future of gaming."
Comanche and Otoe-Missouria leaders say the decision does not prevent them from operating casinos within the confines of state law, but that issue could be subject to additional challenges. And the side deals they made with the governor came at a cost — the suspension of membership with the Oklahoma Indian Gaming Association and, perhaps, some loss of credibility.
But it is clear from the decision in this case that all Oklahomans can declare victory, because, as Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat said, the decision "preserves the foundational principle of checks and balances upon which our government is based.”
This was a clear victory for the rule of law.