State files Supreme Court brief in waterways sovereignty case
The State of Alaska is lending legal support to a man whose confrontation with federal officers has led to a U.S. Supreme Court showdown regarding questions of state and federal jurisdiction.
The state Department of Law said Monday that it has filed a “friend of the court” brief with the high court in favor of John Sturgeon. Sturgeon sued after a 2007 confrontation in the Yukon-Charley National Preserve with park rangers, who threatened to cite his hovercraft – which was legal under state law – as a violation of federal law barring hovercraft from the preserve.
Sturgeon sued, claiming state law applied to the waterways on which his hovercraft was operating under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. He took his case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against Sturgeon in 2014. Two years later the Supreme Court sent the case back to the 9th Circuit, which again ruled against Sturgeon last year; Sturgeon is once more appealing to the Supreme Court.
The State of Alaska tried to file a suit in support of Sturgeon, which was dismissed for lack of standing; the Department of Law has been backing Sturgeon’s suit ever since.
“The state owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Sturgeon for continuing this fight, and the least we can do is support him in his efforts and defend the State's sovereign rights,” Gov. Bill Walker said in a Monday statement. “We have and will continue working closely with John Sturgeon and his legal team to again seek Supreme Court review of the 9th Circuit decision. We hope the Court will act to uphold Alaska’s sovereign interest in managing its lands and waters.”
Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth blasted the 9th Circuit's second decision for ignoring guidance from the Supreme Court, which ordered that judges weigh Alaska’s history and legal tradition in reconsidering the matter.
“Last time Mr. Sturgeon went before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court sent a very clear message to the 9th Circuit – you must take Alaska's unique statutes and history into account,” Lindemuth said. “Instead, the 9th Circuit completely ignored the Supreme Court’s guidance and expanded a federal doctrine on reserved water rights far beyond its ordinary and reasonable meaning.”
Sturgeon filed his petition for certiorati before the Supreme Court on Jan. 5.
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