“Alaska is different.” So said Chief Justice John Roberts when the U.S. Supreme Court last took up this case two years ago in Sturgeon v. Frost (Sturgeon I). When the court hears a second oral argument in Sturgeon v. Frost (Sturgeon II) next Monday, it will once again consider whether a form of transportation unknown to most people outside of Alaska – a hovercraft (an amphibious vehicle that glides over land and water) – can be used in the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve conservation system unit (CSU). Why, you may ask, would the court bother (twice) with such an arcane and seemingly inconsequential set of issues involving a place that most of us will never even visit, much less on a hovercraft?
The relatively narrow question presented in Sturgeon II is whether the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, 16 U.S.C. 3103(c), withdrew the National Park Service’s authority to regulate activities on navigable waters located within units of the National Park System in Alaska.