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Supreme Court rules for hunter in hovercraft case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday in Sturgeon v. Frost [SCOTUSblog backgrounder] that an Alaskan hunter may use his hovercraft in a federal preserve, holding that the "Ninth Circuit's interpretation of the statute in question is inconsistent with both the text and context." The court was tasked with determining whether National Park Service (NPS) regulations applied over Alaska law where John Sturgeon was not allowed under NPS regulations to use his hovercraft while Section 103(c) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act [official text] allowed such activity. In order to reach a determination, it was necessary to determine whether the land in question was actually within the boundary of what is referred to as "public land" for the purpose of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The Supreme Court began by criticizing the approach used by the lower court and it further addressed how there was a distinction between "public" and "non-public" lands. However, the court did not address the remainder of the arguments.

In January the court heard oral arguments [JURIST report] in the case. The question presented was "[w]hether Section 103(c) of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 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." The case specifically addressed whether the NPS could restrict a moose hunter from using a hovercraft on shallow park waters. Sturgeon argued that he has the right to use his hovercraft to get to his favorite moose hunting spot because the rivers in Alaska are not "federal lands" under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had ruled [opinion, PDF] in favor of the NPS, affirming the lower court decision.

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