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Kleppe v. New Mexico

ELR Citation: 6 ELR 20545
Nos. No. 74-1488, 426 U.S. 529/(U.S., 06/17/1976) Rev'd

The Supreme Court, reversing a three-judge district court, 6 ELR 20509, declares that the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act does not unconstitutionally infringe on state sovereignty over wildlife. Observing that the Property Clause of the United States Constitution gives broad power to the Congress, the Court looks to whether the enactment is a "'needful' regulation 'respecting' public lands. . . ." Accepting protection of wildlife as a valid ground for the Act's enactment, the Court rejects New Mexico's narrow reading of the Property Clause, which would restrict the scope of federal regulation to (1) disposal and use of federal property and (2) protection of federal property. The federal legislation is not an impermissible intrusion on state jurisdiction, because New Mexico retains civil and criminal jurisdiction over public lands. Only New Mexico's Estray Law, insofar as it attempts to regulate federally protected animals, is overruled. State trusteeship over wildlife extends only so far as does not conflict with valid federal legislation. The Court reserves judgment on the collateral question of how far beyond the boundaries of public land federal protective regulation may extend.

Counsel for Defendants
Robert H. Bork, Solicitor General
A. Raymond Randolph, Jr., Deputy Solicitor General
Peter A. Taft, Asst. Attorney General
William F. Sheehan, III, Asst. to the Solicitor General
Department of Justice
Washington DC 20530
(202) 737-7200

Counsel for Plaintiffs
George T. Harris, Jr., Spec. Asst. Attorney General
George J. Hopkins
Department of Justice
State Capitol
Santa Fe NM 87503
(505) 827-2874

Marshall, J., for a unanimous Court.