Kleppe v. New Mexico

Citation426 U.S. 529,49 L.Ed.2d 34,96 S.Ct. 2285
Decision Date17 June 1976
Docket NumberNo. 74-1488,74-1488
PartiesThomas S. KLEPPE, Secretary of the Interior, Appellant, v. State of NEW MEXICO et al
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Rehearing Denied Oct. 4, 1976. See 429 U.S. 873, 97 S.Ct. 189.

Syllabus

The Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act (Act) was enacted to protect "all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United States" from "capture, branding, harassment, or death," to accomplish which "they are to be considered in the area where presently found, as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands." The Act provides that all such animals on the public lands administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or by the Secretary of Agriculture through the Forest Service are committed to the jurisdiction of the respective Secretaries, who are "directed to protect and manage (the animals) as components of the public lands . . . in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands," and if the animals stray from those lands onto privately owned land, the private landowners may inform federal officials, who shall arrange to have the animals removed. Appellees, the State of New Mexico, its Livestock Board and director, and the purchaser of three unbranded burros seized by the Board (pursuant to the New Mexico Estray Law) on federal lands and sold at public auction, and whose return to public lands had been demanded by the BLM, brought this suit for injunctive relief and for a declaratory judgment that the Act is unconstitutional. A three-judge District Court held the Act unconstitutional and enjoined its enforcement. Held : As applied to this case, the Act is a constitutional exercise of congressional power under the Property Clause of the Constitution, which provides that "Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States." Art. IV, § 3, cl. 2. Pp. 535-547.

(a) The Clause, in broad terms, empowers Congress to determine what are "needful" rules "respecting" the public lands, and there is no merit to appellees' narrow reading that the provision grants Congress power only to dispose of, to make incidental rules regarding the use of, and to protect federal property. The Clause must be given an expansive reading, for "(t)he power over the public lands thus entrusted to Congress is without limitations," United States v. San Francisco, 310 U.S. 16, 29, 60 S.Ct. 749, 756, 84 L.Ed. 1050, and Congress' complete authority over the public lands includes the power to regulate and protect the wildlife living there. Pp. 536-541.

(b) In arguing that the Act encroaches upon state sovereignty and that Congress can obtain exclusive legislative jurisdiction over the public lands in a State only by state consent (absent which it may not act contrary to state law), appellees have confused Congress' derivative legislative power from a State pursuant to Art. I, § 8, cl. 17, with Congress' powers under the Property Clause. Federal legislation under that Clause necessarily, under the Supremacy Clause, overrides conflicting state laws. And here, though the Act does not establish exclusive federal jurisdiction over the public lands in New Mexico, it overrides the New Mexico Estray Law insofar as that statute attempts to regulate federally protected animals. Pp. 541-546.

(c) The question of the Act's permissible reach under the Property Clause over private lands to protect wild free-roaming horses and burros that have strayed from public land need not be, and is not, decided in the context of this case. Pp. 546-547.

D.C., 406 F.Supp. 1237, reversed and remanded.

A. Raymond Randolph, Jr., Washington, D. C., for appellant.

George T. Harris, Jr., Albuquerque, N. M., for appellees.

Mr. Justice MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

At issue in this case is whether Congress exceeded its powers under the Constitution in enacting the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act.

I

The Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act, 85 Stat. 649, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1340 (1970 ed., Supp. IV), was enacted in 1971 to protect "all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United States," § 2(b) of the Act, 16 U.S.C. § 1332(b) (1970 ed., Supp. IV), from "capture, branding, harassment, or death." § 1, 16 U.S.C. § 1331 (1970 ed., Supp. IV). The Act provides that all such horses and burros on the public lands administered by the Secretary of the Interior through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or by the Secretary of Agriculture through the Forest Service are committed to the jurisdiction of the respective Secretaries, who are "directed to protect and manage (the animals) as components of the public lands . . . in a manner that is designed to achieve and maintain a thriving natural ecological balance on the public lands." § 3(a), 16 U.S.C. § 1333(a) (1970 ed., Supp. IV). If protected horses or burros "stray from public lands onto privately owned land, the owners of such land may inform the nearest Federal marshal or agent of the Secretary, who shall arrange to have the animals removed." 1 § 4, 16 U.S.C. § 1334 (1970 ed., Supp. IV).

Section 6, 16 U.S.C. § 1336 (1970 ed., Supp. IV), authorizes the Secretaries to promulgate regulations, see 36 CFR § 231.11 (1975) (Agriculture); 43 CFR pt. 4710 (1975) (Interior), and to enter into cooperative agreements with other landowners and with state and local governmental agencies in furtherance of the Act's purposes. On August 7, 1973, the Secretaries executed such an agreement with the New Mexico Livestock Board, the agency charged with enforcing the New Mexico Estray Law, N.M.Stat.Ann. § 47-14-1 Et seq. (1966).2 The agreement acknowledged the authority of the Secretaries to manage and protect the wild free-roaming horses and burros on the public lands of the United States within the State and established a procedure for evaluating the claims of private parties to ownership of such animals.

The Livestock Board terminated the agreement three months later. Asserting that the Federal Government lacked power to control wild horses and burros on the public lands of the United States unless the animals were moving in interstate commerce or damaging the public lands and that neither of these bases of regulation was available here, the Board notified the Secretaries of its intent

"to exercise all regulatory, impoundment and sale powers which it derives from the New Mexico Estray Law, over all estray horses, mules or asses found running at large upon public or private lands within New Mexico . . . . This includes the right to go upon Federal or State lands to take possession of said horses or burros, should the Livestock Board so desire." App. 67, 72.

The differences between the Livestock Board and the Secretaries came to a head in February 1974. On February 1, 1974, a New Mexico rancher, Kelley Stephenson, was informed by the BLM that several unbranded burros had been seen near Taylor Well, where Stephenson watered his cattle. Taylor Well is on federal property, and Stephenson had access to it and some 8,000 surrounding acres only through a grazing permit issued pursuant to § 3 of the Taylor Grazing Act, 48 Stat. 1270, as amended, 43 U.S.C. § 315b. After the BLM made it clear to Stephenson that it would not remove the burros and after he personally inspected the Taylor Well area, Stephenson complained to the Livestock Board that the burros were interfering with his livestock operation by molesting his cattle and eating their feed.

Thereupon the Board rounded up and removed 19 unbranded and unclaimed burros pursuant to the New Mexico Estray Law. Each burro was seized on the pub- lic lands of the United States 3 and, as the director of the Board conceded, each burro fit the definition of a wild free-roaming burro under § 2(b) othe Act. App. 43. On February 18, 1974, the Livestock Board, pursuant to its usual practice, sold the burros at a public auction. After the sale, the BLM asserted jurisdiction under the Act and demanded that the Board recover the animals and return them to the public lands.

On March 4, 1974, appellees 4 filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico seeking a declaratory judgment that the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act is unconstitutional and an injunction against its enforcement. A three-judge court was convened pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2282.

Following an evidentiary hearing, the District Court held the Act unconstitutional and permanently enjoined the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) from enforcing its provisions.5 The court found that the Act "conflicts with . . . the traditional doctrines concerning wild animals," New Mexico v. Morton, 406 F.Supp. 1237, 1238 (1975), and is in excess of Congress' power under the Property Clause of the Constitution, Art. IV, § 3, cl. 2. That Clause, the court found, enables Congress to regulate wild animals found on the public land only for the "Protection of the public lands from damage of some kind." 406 F.Supp., at 1239 (emphasis in original). Accordingly, this power was exceeded in this case because "(t)he statute is aimed at protecting the wild horses and burros, not at protecting the land they live on." Ibid.6 noted probable jurisdiction, 423 U.S. 818, 96 S.Ct. 31, 46 L.Ed.2d 36 (1975), and we now reverse.

II

The Property Clause of the Constitution provides that "Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States." U.S.Const., Art. IV, § 3, cl. 2. In passing the Wild Free-roaming Horses and Burros Act, Congress deemed the regulated animals "an integral part of the natural system of the public lands" of the United States, § 1, 16 U.S.C. § 1331 (1970 ed., Supp. IV),...

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