Average Joe SCOTUS: United States v. Cooley

As you may know, in the United States, long ago, there were people who lived here when Europeans showed up. Long story short, we moved in, and largely kicked them out. However, being prone to feeling a little guilty when we fuck people over, we reserved some land for them to live on, and we call that land reservations.

Within those reservations, they have their own laws, and their own police to enforce them, and those rules are for Native Americans, and not non-Native people, like my lily white ass.

Joshua Cooley was also a non-native, driving through the reservation during the wee hours of the morning, with his ankle biter in tow. Apparently, he’d had one helluva night, because he was tired AF, and decided to pull over and rest a bit.

The area he was in, is notable for spotty mobile phone reception, and Crow Highway Safety Officer James Saylor was driving by and stopped to help him. It’s pretty common for us non-native folks to get lost and find themselves on a reservation. So they do their best to help us out.

When Saylor approached the vehicle and asked if he could help, he noticed Cooley’s kid in the truck, that Cooley himself seemed kinda out of it, and that he also seemed non-Native. As such, Indian law says Saylor should have called the white fuzz. But he didn’t. He kept asking Cooley questions.

As he was talking to him, he noticed a few semi-automatic rifles in the truck, and then Cooley got the “crazy eyes” going as if he was about to go ape shit. So Saylor drew his weapon and asked him to get out of the truck, placed him in the squad car, and called the normal rozzers. He then went on to search the truck, and found some meth. So now it’s a fucking party.

Surprisingly, the issue here, isn’t about a search and seizure as you might suspect, it’s about the fact that a native American cop should be allowed to detain a non-Native citizens within a reservation for crimes like drugs and illegal firearms and shit. If this were a regular cop off the reservation, all of this would have been a normal Tuesday night.

During opening questioning, Counsel for the United States argued:

Eric J. Feigin

I think it’s pretty clear from Strate and I believe Your Honor’s opinion in Atkinson that the authority we’re talking about today is meaningfully different. The main logic of not subjecting non-Indians to tribal adjudication or legislation is that they have no say in making those laws.

Here, this is about the enforcement of laws to which they’re — the non-Indians are indubitably subject.

Essentially saying, the cops can do their part, native or not. But if there ends up being charges and an attempt at prosecution, then that would be the duty of the US government, and not the reservation.

In a unanimous ruling, SCOTUS sided with the United States (the native Americans) against Cooley. They basically argued you can’t handcuff native cops like that. If something is up, you can’t expect them to do nothing, while they wait for non-native cops to show up. That’s dumb AF.

Of course the white dude might be tried and prosecuted off the reservation, but at least those cops can mitigate the threat in the mean time.

Hear oral arguments and read about the case here


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