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Press Release

United States Supreme Court Accepts Alaskan's Case Opposing Federal Regulatory Overreach

October 2, 2015

(Juneau, AK) – The Department of Law is pleased that the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear Sturgeon v. Masica, et al., a case in which Alaska filed an amicus brief asking the Court to take a stand against federal regulatory overreach. The Court will now consider whether Section 103(c) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA) prohibits the National Park Service from exercising regulatory control over State, Native Corporation, and private Alaska land physically located within the boundaries of the National Park System.

“This case raises a question of exceptional importance to the State, Native Corporations, and the people of Alaska,” said Attorney General Craig Richards. “The right to regulate and manage Alaska’s resources is an essential component of Alaska’s sovereignty, and Alaska has a compelling interest in preserving our right to manage our state’s resources free from unchecked federal control.”

The case considers whether ANILCA permits the federal government to exercise broad regulation over nonfederal lands and waters in Alaska. In 2007, armed National Park Service officials barred John Sturgeon from using his hovercraft within the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve while he was traveling on the Nation River to access moose hunting grounds outside the Preserve. The National Park Service claimed that it had extensive authority to regulate activities—even to prevent Alaskan citizens from freely traveling on state owned lands and navigable waters. Sturgeon sued, arguing that the Park Service’s actions violated the language and intent of ANILCA, which explicitly limits the scope of federal regulation inside Alaska’s National Parks. Last fall, in a decision giving the National Park Service unprecedented regulatory authority, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that ANILCA gives the federal government broad ability to regulate non-federal lands and waters.

The Department of Law, as well as a number of Native Corporations, filed amicus briefs, or “friend of the court” briefs, on behalf of Mr. Sturgeon and urged the Supreme Court to take up the case. The State argued that Alaska had a long and proud tradition of managing its resources, and that ANILCA endorsed Alaska’s sovereign right to continue to do so. Alaska asked that the Court accept the case in order to preserve Alaska’s sovereignty and protect the many Alaskans who rely on the State’s rich resources.

Attorney General Richards explained “The federal government’s effort to expand its authority in Alaska has been an ongoing concern since statehood. We are hopeful that in accepting this case among the thousands of petitions presented, the Court has indicated its willingness to curb federal overreach and vindicate Alaska’s important interests in this issue. We remain optimistic that the Court will reverse the Ninth Circuit’s decision, reinstate Alaska’s sovereign right to manage nonfederal lands, and give meaning to ANILCA’s assurances.”

The State intends to submit an additional amicus brief in support of Mr. Sturgeon to the Supreme Court, which will likely hear oral arguments in the case in January or February. For more information please contact Janell Hafner at (907) 465-3600 or Ruth Botstein at (907) 269-5100.

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