Patchak v. Zinke

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Constitutional Law
  • Date Filed: February 27, 2018
  • Case #: 16–498
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: THOMAS, J., announced the judgment of the Court in which BREYER, ALITO, and KAGAN, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed a concurring opinion. GINSBURG, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which SOTOMAYOR, J., joined. SOTOMAYOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. ROBERTS, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which KENNEDY and GORSUCH, JJ., joined.
  • Full Text Opinion

Congress does not violate Article III when it enacts a new law directing the federal courts to dismiss certain suits, even when the law retroactively effects pending litigation.

Respondent seized land to hold in trust for a native tribe’s casino development. Petitioner sued, arguing that the tribe was statutorily ineligible for such a trust. This Court found for Petitioner, who refiled suit in district court. While pending, Congress restored Respondent’s immunity from suit and enacted the Gun Lake Act, establishing that a lawsuit “relating to [this land] shall not be filed in federal court and shall be properly dismissed.” Petitioner argued that the enactment violated Article III. Justices Thomas, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, concluded that Congress may not invade the realm of the Judiciary, but Congress may enact laws taking retroactive effect, even when dispositive of existing litigation. Justice Breyer concurred that Congress violates Article III when it “compels results under old law.” Here, Congress acted to create new law, which had the natural effect of removing the federal court’s jurisdiction over proceedings concerning this tract of land. Justices Ginsburg and Sotomayor concurred with the judgment, reasoning that congressional enactments prescribing sovereign immunity are a valid exercise of Congress’ authority. Because it is within the scope of congressional power to establish governmental immunity and determine the jurisdiction of the federal courts, Congress did not violate Article III by enacting the Gun Lake Act and removing Petitioner’s suit from federal jurisdiction. AFFIRMED.

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