Patchak v. Zinke


This case raises a separation of powers issue: can Congress require the judicial branch to “promptly dismiss” a lawsuit in the middle of litigation when it doesn’t amend the underlying substantive or procedural laws?1

  1. We talked about this case in Episode 44. More information about the case can be found here

6-3 Zinke

9-0 Patchak

7-2 Zinke

Case Outcome

6-3 Zinke


The Gun Lake Tribe of Indians in Michigan asked the Secretary of the Department of Interior (Zinke) to take private land so that they could build a casino. It was not Patchak’s land that was taken, but land near his. Patchak alleges that the taking was illegal and the taking interferes with his use of the land.2

In the middle of his lawsuit, Congress passed the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act, which states “an action … relating to the [the Gun Lake land at issue] shall not be filed or maintained in a Federal court and shall be promptly dismissed.” Patchak argues that under United States v. Klien (1872), Congress can’t single out lawsuits that it doesn’t like and dismiss them.1 However if Congress wanted to, Congress could change the applicable law, even if the result were to dismiss a pending case. The Government argues that this is just a change in the court’s jurisdiction.

  1. This case also deals with the Pardon power. 

  2. Of course, because it wasn’t his land, the Department alleged that he did not have standing. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, where the Court held that he did have standing because he could have economic, environmental, or aesthetic interests at stake. 

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