Kleppe v. New Mexico
426 U.S. 529 (1976)

  • Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (Pub.L. 92-195), which made it a crime to "capture, brand, harass, or kill" wild horses or burros on Federal land.
  • The New Mexico Livestock Board (NMLB) didn't like the law, so they went onto some Federal land in New Mexico, captured some burros, and sold them off. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) demanded their return. NMLB sued for an injunction.
    • NMLB argued that 92-195 was unconstitutional unless the Federal government could show that the horses and burros were items of interstate commerce (and thus covered by the Interstate Commerce Clause).
    • New Mexico had its own State law (New Mexico Estray Law) that said it was ok to take wild burros.
  • The Trial Court found for the NMLB. BLM appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the Federal government has "complete power" over Federal lands.
      • Because of the Property Clause (Article IV, 3, cl. 2), which gives Congress the power to "dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States."
    • The Court found that the power to regulate wildlife was included in that power to regulate.
      • New Mexico argued that wildlife wasn't Federal property and so shouldn't be governed by the Property Clause. But the Court found that wildlife was an indispensable part of the ecosystem, so protecting the animals is a part of protecting the land, even if the Federal government didn't technically 'own' the wildlife.
        • Technically, the horses were introduced by the Europeans and weren't a natural and indispensable part of the ecosystem.
    • The Court found that the Supremacy Clause (Article IV, 2) overrides any conflicting State laws in areas where Congress has acted.
      • The Court noted that New Mexico could still regulate Federal lands, but as soon as Congress enacted a law on point, then any State laws are preempted.