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Supreme Court hears arguments in separation of powers case

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] heard oral arguments [transcript, PDF] Tuesday in Patchak v. Zinke [SCOTUSblog materials].

The case centers around whether Section 2(b) of the Gun Lake Act [text] is an unconstitutional violation of Article III [text] of the Constitution regarding separation of powers. The statute, which was implemented after the court decided the suit may proceed, directs federal courts to promptly dismiss a pending case without amending the substantive law.

Patchak's attorney argued the specific section of statute permitted Congress to exercise judicial powers and prevented the courts from fulfilling their constitutionally assigned duties. Patchak's attorney argues that the statute essentially grants Congress the authority to decide the outcome of a specific case, stripping the courts of their essential duty. This was met with questioning by Justice Samuel Alito, who challenged whether this was a jurisdiction-stripping statute, which would potentially immunize the statute from review under the separation of powers rule.

The case revolves around a tract of land in Michigan that was designated as Indian tribal land, which eventually was turned into a casino. Patchak, who had assets on the land, suffered financial injury. The statute ratifies the Secretary of the Interior's decision to designate land as Indian land, stating that "an action … relating to the land [in question] shall not be filed or maintained in a Federal court and shall be promptly dismissed."

Justices Elena Kagan, Neil Gorsuch, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Samuel Alito questioned Patchak's attorney's theory that this is something more than a jurisdiction-stripping statute.

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