WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices had tough questions Tuesday for a lawyer representing a Michigan man suing over a Native American tribe’s casino, with justices seeming to suggest that Congress acted properly when it shut down the lawsuit.
It is the second time the case has appeared before the court.
David Patchak sued in 2008 after the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, also known as the Gun Lake Tribe, got the go-ahead to build a casino on land near his rural property in Wayland Township. Patchak said the casino, which is about a 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) drive away, would increase traffic and pollution and change the character of the area. And he argued that the federal government had improperly set aside the land for use by the tribe.
A federal court initially dismissed his lawsuit, but an appeals court revived it, and in 2012, more than a year after the casino opened, the Supreme Court ruled that Patchak could proceed with his case.
Congress had other ideas. In 2014, it passed a law shutting down any further litigation over the casino. As a result, Patchak’s lawsuit was dismissed.
Patchak’s lawyer Scott E. Gant told the justices Tuesday in oral arguments that Congress went too far when it passed the law, violating the separation-of-powers principle in the Constitution. Gant told the justices that Congress was improperly directing the result in Patchak’s case.
But Justice Elena Kagan told Gant that the Supreme Court has said “over and over again” that Congress “can take away the jurisdiction of the federal courts and can do so in a way that affects pending cases.” Other justices, including Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, suggested that they believe Congress was acting properly.
If Patchak does win at the Supreme Court and is again allowed to proceed with his lawsuit, he faces a difficult fight against the casino, which is one of 26 in Michigan.
The casino has over 2,000 slot machines and 50 tables for games including craps, roulette and blackjack. A five-story parking lot is also being constructed, said tribe spokesman James Nye. In 2016, the tribe paid more than $17 million to the state and local governments as a result of its casino operation.
The case is Patchak v. Zinke, 16-498.
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