Minnesota v. Block
660 F.2d 1240 (8th Cir. 1981)

  • Congress passed the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act (BWCAW), which limited the ability of people to drive boats and snowmobiles in the Superior National Forest in Minnesota.
  • The National Forest contained some navigable waters, which were owned by Minnesota, not the Federal government.
    • Based on Martin v. Waddell's Lessee (41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 367 (1842)), all submerged land that is in Minnesota is owned by Minnesota, not the Federal government.
    • The BWCAW recognized that Minnesota still retained jurisdiction over the waters but provided that the State could not regulate in a manner less stringent that mandated in the BWCAW.
  • A number of Minnesotans, and the State of Minnesota itself, sued for an injunction, claiming that the Federal government lacked the power to regulate land not owned by the Federal government.
    • The US argued that they had the constitutional authority based on the Property Clause (Article IV, 3, cl. 2).
  • The Trial Court found for the US. Minnesota appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court expanded the Property Clause and found that Congress may regulate conduct off Federal land that interferes with the designated purpose of the Federal land.
      • This was an expansion of the decision in Kleppe v. New Mexico (426 U.S. 529 (1976)) that said Congress could use the Property Clause to override State laws on Federal land.
      • Basically, if Congress had a right to protect their land, they must have a right to regulate behavior on nearby lands that could affect their land.
    • The Court found that the Federal government owned 90% of the land covered by the BWCAW, and that there was evidence that motorboat/snowmobile use on the 10% that Minnesota owned would interfere with the 90% that Federal government owned.
  • The idea that the Property Clause can be used to regulate private property is a significant expansion of the Property Clause. The limits of this expansion have yet to be fully determined, but you could argue that this allows the Federal government to regulate almost anyone's property.
    • For example, would this decision stop someone from using searchlights if they interfere with people's enjoyment while camping in a national park 30 miles away?