Vern and Levi Fiehler

CIR Petitions SCOTUS Challenging Alaska Power Grab

CIR has teamed up with veteran Supreme Court advocate Kannon Shanmugam to file a cert. petition with SCOTUS asking the High Court to review an unconstitutional Alaska Supreme Court decision that will deprive a family of all reasonable access to their home.

The Fiehlers own a house on a parcel of land in Tee Harbor, Alaska. As with many Alaska homes, the house is largely inaccessible over land. Accordingly, the Fiehlers rely on a small beach located in front of their house to bring in supplies by boat.

Problems arose for the Fiehlers when neighbors on an abutting parcel sued in state court claiming ownership of the portions of the beach the Fiehlers have reasonably relied on for decades. Their neighbors sought to prove that the original federal survey that created the plots in 1938 made an error and asked the Alaska court to redraw the property line based on their own survey. The new line would strip the Fiehlers of beach access to their home.

The Fiehlers should have won the case immediately. Under what is now known as Cragin’s Rule, federal survey monuments marking property boundaries are unassailable. The Supreme Court developed the rule over the 19th century and it remains in full force today. Based in the Constitution’s clear grant of authority to the federal government over the territories, Cragin’s Rule prevents state governments from interfering with federally established property rights that homesteaders rely on.

During litigation, the Alaska government ignored this lengthy history and successfully urged the state court to redraw the property line in favor of the Fiehlers’ neighbors. Barring a reversal by the Supreme Court of the United States, the Fiehlers will lose all reasonable access to their home. CIR and Kannon Shanmugam filed a cert petition on June 27 to challenge this unconstitutional attack on the Fiehlers’ property rights.

This is the second case in CIR’s larger Project to Restore Competitive Federalism, which was officially launched at the end of May. The Project aims to restore firm, constitutional limits on both federal and state powers. The Alaska government’s violation of the Fiehlers’ long-established property lines is a reminder we must check state government overreach as vigorously as federal overreach in order to protect individual rights.