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Court Picks Executor in Land Fight

October 16, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court appointed a law professor and former Supreme Court law clerk with a conservative pedigree Monday to help referee a dispute between Alaska and the federal government over who controls a large swath of coastal water in protected areas.

Gregory E. Maggs worked for Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Anthony M. Kennedy, two members of the court’s conservative wing, and also for Robert Bork, a conservative judge denied a spot on the Supreme Court. Maggs is now a law professor at George Washington University in Washington.

The dispute concerns an archipelago of more that 1,000 islands within the Tongass National Forest and the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southeast Alaska.

Holding title to what the state calls ``submerged lands″ in the Alexander Archipelago would give the state, not the federal government, the right to regulate activities in the water above, notably commercial fishing.

In a series of cases over recent years, the court has tipped the balance of power away from the federal government and toward the states.

Alaska asked the Supreme Court to decide the jurisdiction issue after the National Park Service decided to phase out commercial fishing in the waters of Glacier Bay. Clinton administration lawyers disagree with the state’s claims but said did not oppose Alaska’s request to air it before the Supreme Court.

The court agreed in June to hear Alaska’s claim without first having the dispute heard in some lower court. The Constitution gives the court such ``original jurisdiction″ in certain cases.

Such cases can take years to resolve. Appointment of a ``special master″ such as Maggs is a typical first step. The special master conduct hearings and makes recommendations to the court.

The case is Alaska vs. U.S., 128 Original.

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