In an unusual move Monday, the U.S. Justice Department took a lawsuit over water rights away from the state Supreme Court.
The federal government moved the lawsuit to federal court in Oklahoma City.
The notice of the removal was signed by an attorney with the U.S. Justice Department's environment and natural resources division in Washington.
Justices at the Oklahoma Supreme Court had agreed in February to decide whether the state or two American Indian tribes have the rights to the water of three major stream systems in southeastern Oklahoma.
The leaders of the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations issued a statement Monday saying they were pleased with the federal government's action.
“We think this is a very positive development because we think federal court is the proper venue for our claim, which is based on our historic treaties with the U.S. government and on federal law,” said Bill Anoatubby, governor of the Chickasaw Nation, and Greg Pyle, chief of the Choctaw Nation.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt filed the lawsuit at the Oklahoma Supreme Court on behalf of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board.
His assistants were aware of the removal notice and were reviewing it, a spokeswoman said Monday.
Gov. Mary Fallin and her staff are examining the legal briefs
The Chickasaw and Choctaw nations claim the water rights were granted to them in the 1830s through a series of treaties with the federal government and that any removal of water is in direct violation of federal law.
The two tribes filed a water rights lawsuit of their own last year in federal court in Oklahoma City.
“Removal will facilitate resolution of the common federal questions underlying both actions, thereby conserving judicial resources,” the Justice Department attorney wrote.
Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau