Scalia death could affect Alaska case

ANCHORAGE — An Alaska case about whether hovercraft can be used on waterways in federal parks is the last one that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia heard before his death Saturday

Nothing is final at the court until it is released publicly, meaning Scalia’s view on the case will have no bearing on it. The case now goes before the eight remaining Supreme Court justices in June. If the vote is split, the lower court’s decision would be upheld.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has previously ruled in favor of National Park Service control over federal lands.

John Sturgeon brought the case in 2008 after Park Service rangers told him he was violating the law by driving his hovercraft on the waterways in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.

Sturgeon argues that the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act places those waterways in the state’s jurisdiction, allowing him to use his hovercraft on the river.

While it’s not known how Scalia would have voted, he did express doubts about the extent of federal authority on the river when the Supreme Court heard the case in January, the Alaska Public Radio Network reported.

“You’re telling us that the river, that the government holds title to the river? It doesn’t,” he told Assistant Solicitor General Rachel Kovner.

Sturgeon said he believes that Scalia would have supported his argument.

“(Justice Scalia has) certainly been a champion of stopping federal overreach, so I would be surprised if he didn’t vote for us,” said Sturgeon.

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