U.S. Supreme Court Asked to Hear Lake Michigan Public Trust Case

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Is your right to access Indiana’s Lake Michigan shoreline a national concern? On October 5th, the US Supreme Court was asked to decide if it would consider the issue of the boundary of public rights on the shoreline. Their answer could set a national precedent.

How did we get here? Earlier this year, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in Gunderson v. State that Indiana owns the Lake Michigan bed within its borders up to the ordinary high water mark and holds that land in trust for public use. This ruling means that the exposed sandy beaches between the water’s edge and the ordinary high water mark on Indiana’s 45 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline is public.

So why is the Indiana Supreme Court ruling being petitioned to the US Supreme Court? Something called “certiorari,” or cert.

Certiorari (cert.) is “a writ or order by which a higher court reviews a decision of a lower court.” Unlike lower courts, there is no given right to be heard by the US Supreme Court The first step is to ask the Court to hear the case. If the Court grants cert., the Court then considers the merits of the case.

In the first step, the Petitioners present the US Supreme Court with a petition. If you think of it like an application, the Court will look to see if the petition matches criteria outlined by the Supreme Court Rule 10. Some of the things they will look for are whether the case presents a federal question and whether there is a conflict that should be resolved by the Supreme Court. If the criteria are met, the Court will ask the parties to present the merits of the case.

Though rare (~4%), there is a chance the U.S. Supreme Court will take the case. We will likely learn early next year if this Indiana case will be heard by the Court.

For a more in depth look at Gunderson v. State and the questions at stake, see Conservation Law Center Attorney Jeffrey B. Hyman’s article here.