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State ex rel. Nev. State Bd. of Agric. v. United States

Citation: 11 ELR 20794
No. No. Civ-R-78-77-ECR, 512 F. Supp. 166/(D. Nev., 04/01/1981)

The court rules that under the Property Clause of the United States Constitution the federal government may constitutionally refuse to dispose of public lands under its stewardship. Initially, the court finds that it has jurisdiction, under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) and the Administrative Procedure Act, to review the Secretary of the Interior's moratorium on the disposal of public lands because (1) the state has standing to sue to enforce its rights to public lands, (2) there is a case or controversy presented, and (3) the Secretary's rescission of a 1964 moratorium on entries under the Homestead and Desert Land Acts does not render plaintiff's action moot since the dispute could arise again. The court rejects the state's argument that under the Property Clause the federal government holds public lands only as a trustee for the benefit of the states or private citizens of the states in which such lands are located, and eventually is required to dispose of these lands to those parties. Any limitations on the federal government's power under the Property Clause apply only to property within in the original 13 states and not to lands, such as those in Nevada, which were acquired subsequently. Although all states were admitted on an equal footing with the original states, the equal footing doctrine applies only to matters of political rights and state sovereignty, and does not create any limitation of the federal power to retain or dispose of the public lands. The government's trust responsibilities under the Property Clause authorize it to retain, dispose of, or manage federal lands without state consent.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Richard H. Bryan, Attorney General; Larry D. Struve, Harry W. Swainston, Deputy Attorneys General
Heroes Memorial Bldg., Capitol Complex, Carson City NV 89710
(702) 885-4170

Counsel for Defendants
Samuel Coon, Ass't U.S. Attorney; B. Mahlon Brown, U.S. Attorney
300 Booth St., Rm. 2-032, Reno NV 89509
(702) 784-5439