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On November 7, 2017, the Supreme Court heard argument in Patchak v. Zinke, a case involving separation of powers concerns that may arise when Congress passes a statute directing federal courts to “promptly dismiss” a pending lawsuit without amending any underlying substantive or procedural laws. 

In 2012, the Supreme Court held in the case Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians v. Patchak that David Patchak had prudential standing to bring a lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act against the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), to challenge DOI’s taking title under the Indian Reorganization Act to a certain tract of land that was then put into trust for use by the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, also known as the Gun Lake Band or Gun Lake Tribe.  Congress responded by passing the Gun Lake Trust Land Reaffirmation Act (the Gun Lake Act), reaffirming DOI’s taking of land into trust for the Gun Lake Tribe, removing jurisdiction from the federal courts over any actions relating to the land in question, and indicating that any such actions “shall be promptly dismissed.”  The district court in which Patchak had filed his suit determined that its jurisdiction to resolve the suit had been stripped by the Gun Lake Act and that the act was not unconstitutional.  It therefore dismissed Patchak’s case.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment on appeal.

The Supreme Court then granted certiorari to address whether a statute directing the federal courts to “promptly dismiss” a pending lawsuit following substantive determinations by the courts (including the Supreme Court’s determination that the “suit may proceed”) – without amending the underlying substantive or procedural laws – violates the Constitution's separation of powers principles.

To discuss the case, we have Erik Zimmerman, Attorney at Robinson Bradshaw.