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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.
The New Mexico Livestock Board entered upon public lands of the United States and removed wild burros, which the Board then sold at a public auction. Thereafter the Bureau of Land Management, administering the public lands under the Secretary of the Interior, asserted jurisdiction under the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (16 USCS 1331 et seq.) and demanded that the Board recover the animals and return them to the public lands. The State of New Mexico, the Board, and the purchaser of the burros instituted an action, in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, against the Secretary, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act enacted to protect all unbranded and unclaimed horses and burros on public lands of the United States, is unconstitutional. The three-judge District Court rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.
Was the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act unconstitutional?
The Supreme Court reversed the district court's decision that the Act was unconstitutional and enjoining its enforcement, holding that the Act was a proper exercise of congressional power under the Property Clause and that the Property Clause gave Congress the power to protect wildlife on state lands, state law notwithstanding.