Supreme Court justices seemed inclined to side against a man attempting to shut down a Michigan tribal casino, based on questions that were asked while the court heard arguments on Tuesday.

Gun Lake Casino case

Supreme Court Justices seem likely to side with the Gun Lake Tribe over a man who has fought against its casino for years. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The case dates back to 2008, when David Patchak sued after the Match-E-Be-Nash-She-Wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians (also known as the Gun Lake Tribe) were given approval by the federal government to build a casino on land near where he lived in Wayland Township.

Patchak argued that the government had improperly set aside that land for the tribe’s use, and that the casino would change the character of his community.

Congress Steps In to Stop Lawsuits

Over the years, the case winded its way through the courts, first being dismissed and then being revived by an appeals court. The Gun Lake Casino would eventually open in 2011, but in 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that Patchak was allowed to proceed with his case.

That changed in 2014, when Congress passed a law specifically forbidding any more litigation over the Gun Lake Tribe’s casino. That legislation led to the dismissal of Patchak’s lawsuit.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Patchak was back in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, with his lawyer now arguing that Congress overreached when it passed that law. According to lawyer Scott E. Grant, Congress violated the principle of separation of powers, as the legislature was directly determining the result of Patchak’s lawsuit.

Justices Appear to Side with Congress

Several justices from across the political spectrum seemed to roundly reject that argument, however. Justice Elena Kagan said that the Supreme Court had determined on numerous occasions that Congress “can take away the jurisdiction of the federal courts and can do so in a way that affects pending cases.” Others, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor, also suggested that Congress was fully within its rights to pass a law shutting down legal action against the casino.

This line of thinking was similar to the argument used in a brief that had been submitted by the House of Representatives.

“While the Gun Lake Act withdraws jurisdiction over a relatively narrow class of cases – only those cases relating to the Bradley property – the Court has consistently held that Congress may enact legislation that is as particularized as it sees fit,” the House wrote.

With several justices seemingly inclined to agree with this interpretation, it would appear that Patchak’s odds of overturning the law are slim at best. Even if he were able to succeed in the Supreme Court, shutting down the casino might be even more unlikely at this point, several years after it has already opened for business.

The casino has proven popular, and now features 50 table games and over 2,000 slot machines. Last year, the Gun Lake Tribe contributed more than $17 million in taxes to state and local governments based on its casino revenues.