Breaking: Sturgeon wins Supreme Court, 9-0 on river access



Hunter John Sturgeon has been battling for 12 years and has spent $1.2 million to defend Alaskans’ rights to use their rivers as highways. He’s been to the Supreme Court, and won a partial victory two years ago.

But the court asked the Ninth Circuit to review its work, and the Ninth again ruled against the moose hunter who had been stopped by Park Service rangers on the Nation River, and was sent packing.

Today the U.S. Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling of 9-0,  ruled that the Nation River is not “public” land, (this means it is not federal land) and like all non-federal land is navigable inside of Alaska’s national parks. It’s Alaska land.

Rivers are exempt, the court ruled, under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, from the National Park Service’s ordinary regulatory authority. The Park Service doesn’t get to order Alaskans off of rivers in the state.

Justice Kagan wrote the opinion and Justice Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion, joined by Justice Ginsburg, three of the most liberal judges on the Supreme Court.

“What it says is that Alaska not only owns the rivers, but it gets to manage the navigable rivers in the state. Alaska is different. The Supreme Court has said it again and again, that we are different, not only by culture, but by law,” said Sturgeon. We should be treated differently — that’s what the law said.”

Sturgeon said he had many people to thank, and that is was not a win just for his right to hunt, but for all Alaskans.

“It’s a huge win for all of Alaska. People congratulate me, but hundreds of people helped me in this lawsuit — people like Craig Compeau of Fairbanks and Ed Rasmuson, who have been my two biggest supporters from the beginning. But people have helped, from $5 to $20,000, and the Alaska Outdoor Council added $100,000.”

[Read: John Sturgeon, hunter, heading back to Supreme Court]

[Read: Sturgeon gets round two at Supreme Court]

About 8,000 cases were denied by the U.S. Supreme Court this session, but Alaska’s John Sturgeon vs. Frost (U.S. Park Service case #17-949) was accepted — for the second time.

The high court’s first ruling in favor of Sturgeon in 2016 was narrow. It sent key questions back to the Ninth Circuit, which doubled down  in October, 2017 on its ruling against state sovereignty and aspects of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The 9th Circuit judges ruled the federal government has authority over rivers within the national parks under a broad scope of water reservation provisions in federal law.

That left Sturgeon going back to the Supreme Court, which issued its ruling this morning, 12 years after Sturgeon was stopped by Park Service rangers while navigating the Nations River on his way to his moose hunting grounds.

Justice Kagan wrote:

“Petitioner John Sturgeon traveled for decades by hovercraft up a stretch of the Nation River that lies within the boundaries of the Yukon-Charley Preserve, a conservation system unit in Alaska. On one such trip, Park rangers informed him that the Service’s rules prohibit operating a hovercraft on navigable waters ‘located within [a park’s] boundaries.'”

“Sturgeon complied with the order, but shortly thereafter sought an injunction that would allow him to resume using his hovercraft on his accustomed route. The District Court and the Ninth Circuit denied him relief, interpreting Section 103(c) to limit only the Service’s authority to impose Alaska-specific regulations on inholdings—not its authority to enforce nationwide regulations like the hovercraft rule.

[Read the entire ruling here]

“Today’s ruling represents an important moment for Alaska’s sovereignty and the rule of law,” said Gov. Michael Dunleavy. “Once again, the Supreme Court shows why the Ninth Circuit Court is one of the most out of touch and out of line courts in the nation.”


  1. A 9-0 decision brought to you by one of the AAGs fired for no obvious reason 15 minutes after Dunleavy took office.

    • OK, that was an amicus brief, so they get credit for playing. The Walker Administration did try to take over the entire case last year, but the Sturgeon team demurred, wanting stronger legal work. -sd

      • The Alaska Department of Law simply cannot be trusted to represent the State’s common interests in any case involving State’s rights or Native sovereignty during a Democrat-controlled administration. The Sturgeon team would have been sold down the river in a heartbeat had they relied on the State.

    • Snowflake:

      Pardon the rhetorical question: What did Obama mean when he said “elections have consequences”?! I know, it only applies to the Left.

      My fave quote – first said by Churchill and more recently by – speaking of a traveling crisis – Rahm Emanuel: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”

      Take heart. This too shall pass. Getting to equilibrium is never easy, but it is necessary if we are to avoid becoming Venezuela.

      • So the consequence is what exactly? We fire a good attorney for no stated reason? Even if your goal is to reduce headcount and the size of government, can we agree that we need a couple of attorneys? What good attorney wants to go work for a state where an attorney gets fired for no reason after both Republican and quasi-Democratic administrations thought they were good enough to work on the State’s US Supreme Court work? Random terror isn’t good management or even an ethos.
        By the way, John Sturgeon thought she did a great job: “Ruth did a fantastic job,” Sturgeon said in a phone interview this week from a logging camp on Afognak Island, near Kodiak. “I was extremely surprised that they didn’t keep her, and I’m not sure the reason.” KTOO, Dec. 13, 2018

        I’d also point out that the State had oral argument time as an amicus, which is itself exceedingly rare, and essentially required John to both concur in the State’s request and agree to give up some of his own very valuable argument time.

        • Ok Snowflake. Enough about the attorneys. Done deal. You already know that anyone can go bye-bye when an administration changes whether they are fabulous at their job or not. Time to let the attorney thing go. But perhaps you are the said attorney, or related, or…. Regardless, it’s a done deal. Perfectly good people get let go all the time. Pick a new fight please.

    • Do you really think Bill Walker had the rights of ordinary Alaskans in mind, or for that matter, ALL Alaskans? Hell no! Walker was only concerned about SOME Alaskans rights. Walker was no public proponent of Mr. Sturgeon. Walker could personally care less about federal government infringement on state’s rights, or the rights of ordinary Alaskans using public lands for recreational or hunting access. Congratulations Mr. Sturgeon. You are a better defender of liberty and freedom for all Alaskans than Bill Walker ever was.

  2. Way to hang on and not give up. All Alaskan’s need to be able to “get to where we’re going”.

  3. 9th Circuit, the Democrat-Socialists and eco-wacko’s will have a hard time since Kagan and Sotomayor wrote the decisions! Even the most extreme leftist, Ginsburg ruled against the 9th!

    Huge win!

  4. Can’t we just dissolve the 9th Circuit? They are wrong more often than they are right. Thanks for fighting the fight Mr. Sturgeon.

    • Agree. The 9th circuit is a liberal joke. Is it full now? I know that Trump had some folks in the hopper for it….a triple crown for the liberals….person(s) of color; gay; and from California! But, they were Republicans so I am sure even the California Queen Ms. Pelosi couldn’t stomach it…..

  5. Please drop the political rhetoric. We can all complain about all the circuit court sod appeal. If you want to do something worthwhile, help pay Mr. Sturgeon’s bills and contribute to like causes. But at least let us know if you are Alaskans or Outsiders …… some people have grave misconceptions about life in Alaska. I lived in Alaska twice…. 4 years and then 2/1/2 years. Alaskans are unique ….. very individualist but willing to forego differences when a neighbor is in need. Willing to fight for what they believe is right while being willing to sacrifice for the good of the community. Now stop discriminating against nonresident hunters. Let them hunt Dall shape as often as residents get to hunt ….. after all a whole lot of federal money goes to support the open lands of Alaska. Alaskans get a lot more money flowing into the state from the federal government than they send to the federal government.

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