State urges U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Ninth Circuit decision in Sturgeon case - P.O.W. Report

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

State urges U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Ninth Circuit decision in Sturgeon case

AG Jahna Lindemuth files ‘friend of the court’ brief defending State of Alaska’s rights

February 5, 2018 ANCHORAGE – The State of Alaska today in an amicus brief urged the U.S. Supreme Court to hear John Sturgeon’s case and to ultimately overturn the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision.

Mr. Sturgeon filed his petition for certiorari on January 5, and the State is hopeful that the Supreme Court will once again review these important issues related to the State’s right to manage its own submerged lands and navigable waters flowing over the top of those lands.

“Last time Mr. Sturgeon went before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court sent a very clear message to the Ninth Circuit – you must take Alaska's unique statutes and history into account,” Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said. “Instead, the Ninth Circuit completely ignored the Supreme Court’s guidance and expanded a federal doctrine on reserved water rights far beyond its ordinary and reasonable meaning.”

This case arises out of Mr. Sturgeon’s operation of his private hovercraft on Nation River, a state navigable water running through a federal national park area known as a Conservation System Unit. Mr. Sturgeon was using a hovercraft on his annual moose-hunting trip — an activity permitted under state law — when the National Park Service threatened him with a citation for violating a federal ban on hovercraft use in park units. Mr. Sturgeon sued, challenging the federal government’s assertion of broad regulatory authority. The State filed its own suit as well but was dismissed for lack of standing. Since that time, the State has supported Mr. Sturgeon’s legal efforts by filing amicus briefs, also known as “friend of the court” briefs.

This case already made its way to the Supreme Court previously after the Ninth Circuit held in favor of the National Park Service, but the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit with specific guidance on Alaska's unique history and federal statutes that apply and asked the Ninth Circuit to review the case again.

Rather than using the Supreme Court’s emphasis on State sovereignty as a guide, the Ninth Circuit held that the federal government has broad authority, stemming from the federal government’s reserved water rights, to regulate navigable waters in federal national park areas in Alaska — despite the State’s ownership of submerged lands. Mr. Sturgeon and the State both believe the Ninth Circuit is wrong, and Mr. Sturgeon has requested the U.S. Supreme Court to review the issue for a second time due to the Ninth Circuit’s failure to properly apply the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act and recognize state management authority over navigable waters in the State.

“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,” Governor Bill Walker said. “We have and will continue working closely with John Sturgeon and his legal team to again seek Supreme Court review of the Ninth Circuit decision. We hope the Court will act to uphold Alaska’s sovereign interest in managing its lands and waters.”

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