Tuesday, February 27, 2018
Today the Supreme Court issued its decision in Patchak v. Zinke, covered earlier here. By a 6-3 vote—and with no majority opinion—the Court rules that the Gun Lake Act does not violate Article III. Justice Thomas writes the plurality opinion, joined by Justices Breyer, Alito, and Kagan. Justice Ginsburg writes a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Sotomayor. And Chief Justice Roberts writes a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Kennedy and Gorsuch. Justice Breyer and Justice Sotomayor also write separate concurring opinions. There’s a lot to digest, but here’s a quick breakdown...
The Gun Lake Act involved claims regarding land known as the Bradley property, which was the subject of a lawsuit by the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians. The Act provided in § 2(b):
NO CLAIMS.—Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an action (including an action pending in a Federal court as of the date of enactment of this Act) relating to the land described in subsection (a) shall not be filed or maintained in a Federal court and shall be promptly dismissed.
Justice Thomas’s plurality opinion finds no Article III violation because:
Section 2(b) changes the law. Specifically, it strips federal courts of jurisdiction over actions “relating to” the Bradley Property. Before the Gun Lake Act, federal courts had jurisdiction to hear these actions. See 28 U. S. C. §1331. Now they do not. This kind of legal change is well within Congress’ authority and does not violate Article III.
Justice Ginsburg’s concurring opinion reads the Gun Lake Act as concerning solely sovereign immunity:
What Congress grants, it may retract. That is undoubtedly true of the Legislature’s authority to forgo or retain the Government’s sovereign immunity from suit. The Court need venture no further to decide this case.
Chief Justices Roberts’ dissenting opinion begins:
Two Terms ago, this Court unanimously agreed that Congress could not pass a law directing that, in the hypothetical pending case of Smith v. Jones, “Smith wins.” Bank Markazi v. Peterson, 578 U. S. ___, ___, n. 17 (2016) (slip op., at 13, n. 17). Today, the plurality refuses to enforce even that limited principle in the face of a very real statute that dictates the disposition of a single pending case. Contrary to the plurality, I would not cede unqualified authority to the Legislature to decide the outcome of such a case. Article III of the Constitution vests that responsibility in the Judiciary alone.
(Full disclosure, I joined an amicus brief on behalf of federal courts scholars in support of the petitioner in this case).