Voters in Oklahoma may have gotten a lot more than they bargained for when they passed a ban on Sharia law in last Tuesday’s elections.
The ballot measures that order judges not to consider Islamic or international law may also affect Native Americans because tribes are considered sovereign nations.
Oklahoma University law professor Taiawagi Helton observed that language in the “Save Our State” constitutional amendment that says courts may not consider “legal precepts of other nations or cultures” will be a problem if it is applied to tribal legal cases.
“Helton, who specializes in American Indian law, said the ‘ambiguous’ language could be interpreted in a way for the state to reject rulings based on tribal laws,” The Norman Transcript reported. “He said an ‘opportunistic’ person could argue tribal laws do not apply in arbitration cases or when the state is called to resolve a dispute.”
Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission released a memo October 20 explaining that the new law could cause “collateral damage” for Oklahoma tribes.
“It completely ignores the possibility that an Oklahoma state court may be called upon to apply the law of any of the 39 Indian tribes located with the borders of Oklahoma to resolve a dispute,” the memo said.
“If SQ 755 is approved, the lack of specific tribal law language could easily be interpreted by a state judge to leave no room to refer to a tribe’s law to determine the existence of a valid waiver of a tribe’s sovereign immunity, for example. Thus, SQ 755 has the potential to provide state court judges with yet another opportunity to further erode tribal sovereignty.”
Rick Tepker, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma School of Law, noted last week that the ballot measure was a “mess” and could even have the side effect of preventing judges from referencing the Ten Commandments.
“Many of us who understand the law are scratching our heads this morning, laughing so we don’t cry,” he told CNN. “I would like to see Oklahoma politicians explain if this means that the courts can no longer consider the Ten Commandments. Isn’t that a precept of another culture and another nation? The result of this is that judges aren’t going to know when and how they can look at sources of American law that were international law in origin.”
And business could also suffer as a result of the new law, according to Tepker.
“Oklahoma is getting an increasing amount of business overseas, and if this measure passes, it may make foreign business partners tentative to sign contracts with us,” he said. “It’s an unpredictable, unforeseen effect, and I don’t think [co-author Rep. Rex Duncan] and the other legislative sponsors even considered that, because they were trying to get something else out of it.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a lawsuit two days after the ban passed saying it violates the First Amendment.
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a temporary restraining order that prevented the state board of elections from certifying the election results in which the amendment was approved.
Helton said he was confident courts would eventually strike down the measure.