The U.S. Supreme Court is requesting that the Trump administration evaluate the extent to which states can prohibit mining activity on federal lands. Earlier this week, the Justices asked the acting solicitor general to weigh in on a case brought by a part-time prospector who hopes to knock down a specific California ban on a method of gold mining. The Court’s request signifies that an opinion from the federal government could be helpful in deciding whether the Court grants review of the case.  

More specifically, the case is being brought by Brandon Rinehart, who is challenging a 2009 prohibition on suction dredge mining in California. California criminally prosecuted Rinehart for using the mining method on a claim in Plumas National Forest. Rinehart notes in his petition that this case is about “whether states, in lieu of regulating, can simply forbid federal encouraged activities on federal lands, without regard to the particular activity’s impacts or whether they can be mitigated.”

The California Supreme Court ruled on this matter in August 2016 and found that the state can ban mining. The California Court has also asked the Supreme Court to deny review of the case and uphold its ban. While Rinehart is represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation, he has also gained the support of the Southeast Legal Foundation, Western Mining Alliance, and American Exploration & Mining Association, which all filed amicus briefs in support of Rinehart.

California isn’t the only state involved in a legal dispute over mining regulations. Last month, a uranium company in Virginia asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that upheld the state’s long-standing moratorium on uranium mining.   The central issue in the case focuses on whether the federal Atomic Energy Act pre-empts Virginia’s law. Earlier in the year, the 4th Circuit issued a split decision and found that the state leaders were immune from litigation and Virginia was the “paramount proprietor” of minerals within its jurisdiction.

For the U.S. Supreme Court to grant review, four justices must vote to hear a case.