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
Based on Martinv. Waddell's Lessee (41 U.S. (16 Pet.) 367 (1842)), all submerged
land that is in Minnesota is owned by Minnesota, not the Federal
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
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
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?