Separation of Powers—Authority of Congress to Target Specific Lawsuits

Patchak v. Jewell,  No. 16-498

In Patchak v. Jewell, a landowner challenged the Secretary of the Interior’s decision to take a nearby property into trust for the Gun Lake Tribe on the ground that the Secretary lacked the power to do so under the Indian Reorganization Act. The case went up to the Supreme Court, which held in 2012 that the plaintiff had standing to proceed with the lawsuit. In 2014, Congress enacted a statute that terminated plaintiff’s lawsuit by requiring dismissal of any pending or future case relating to the property in question—without changing any generally applicable substantive or procedural law. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to decide whether in so doing Congress violated separation of powers principles and deprived the plaintiff of his right to due process under the Fifth Amendment.