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John v. United States

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
247 F.3d 1032 (9th Cir. 2001)


Under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), 16 U.S.C. § 3111 et seq., subsistence hunting and fishing were given priority over other rights on public land. Under ANILCA, Congress gave Alaska the opportunity to implement regulations consistent with providing priority to subsistence users. However, in 1989, the Supreme Court of Alaska ruled that those preferences were unconstitutional under Alaska’s constitution. The United States Secretary of the Interior (defendant) stepped in shortly after to manage implementation of ANILCA and the priority rights of subsistence users. As part of its regulations, the secretary adopted a narrow definition of “public lands,” which excluded navigable waters. Members of the Ahtna Athabaskan Indians, including Katie John (plaintiff) sued the federal government (defendant) and the Secretary of the Interior, challenging this definition of public lands. John argued that all navigable waters were included within the definition of public lands, because of the navigational servitude. The district court agreed. The United States sought and received an interlocutory appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to determine whether public lands include navigable waters.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Per Curiam)

Dissent (Hall, J.)

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