Supreme Court Questions If Congress Can Affect Federal Courts' Decisions

By Lovelace, Ryan | Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, November 6, 2017 | Go to article overview

Supreme Court Questions If Congress Can Affect Federal Courts' Decisions


Lovelace, Ryan, Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The


The Supreme Court on Tuesday questioned whether Congress can direct the outcomes of cases before federal courts.

In Patchak v. Zinke, the Supreme Court is looking to determine the constitutionality of a federal statute that blocks an American from pursuing a pending lawsuit.

The federal government turned land in Michigan over to the Gun Lake Tribe, which then opened a casino. David Patchak, who lives near the casino, claimed that the building and operation of the casino caused him injury.

Patchak sued the U.S. government. His case previously arrived at the Supreme Court over whether he had standing to sue. After the justices decided Patchak did have standing, former President Barack Obama signed a law that said any legal action regarding the property at issue in Patchak's case "shall not be filed or maintained in a federal court and shall be promptly dismissed."

Scott Gant, Patchak's attorney, argued on Tuesday that the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act signed by Obama was "precisely the kind of legislation the Framers rejected when they designed the Constitution."

Gant said Congress can try to affect the outcomes of cases, but how it does so matters.

Ann O'Connell, representing Trump administration Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke, countered that she did not see any separation of powers problems with any law that targets a single case such as Patchak.

Chief Justice John Roberts pressed O'Connell on whether the government recognizes any limitations on Congress' ability to direct the outcome of a given case. O'Connell said a statute suggesting one side "wins" would be unlawful. O'Connell suggested that the justices could look to resolve Patchak by searching for any difference between the statute's meaning and an explicit direction on how the case should be decided. …

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