SCOTUS Has Ruled (Twice!) That Malheur Refuge Belongs To the Feds

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January 7, 2016 10:40 a.m.

Long before a group of armed militiamen stormed the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, the Supreme Court ruled –twice in fact– that the land on the preserve had always belonged to the federal government.

The armed group of squatters at the preserve today have claimed they are protesting the federal government’s acquisition of private land, but according to a report from the Oregonian, the preserve never fell out of the government’s control.

The Supreme Court ruled on the case both in 1902 and again in 1935, proof that locals have long challenged the federal government’s presumption of ownership. But in both cases, the federal government was found to be in possession of the land. The Hammond Family, who inspired the militia’s takeover of the reserve, had a long history of tension with the refuge. Dwight Hammond gave death threats on at least four occasions to refuge managers, and fights over water rights between the family and the refuge were common. Both Dwight and Steven Hammond are currently serving five-year-sentences for arson on federal lands.

But, the Oregonian has set the record straight that “before Oregon was admitted to statehood, the United States is shown to have acquired title which it has never in terms conveyed away,” Justice Harlan Stone wrote in 1935.

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