347 U.S. 272 (1954), Alabama v. Texas

Citation:347 U.S. 272, 74 S.Ct. 481, 98 L.Ed. 689
Party Name:Alabama v. Texas
Case Date:March 15, 1954
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 272

347 U.S. 272 (1954)

74 S.Ct. 481, 98 L.Ed. 689




United States Supreme Court

March 15, 1954



The motions of the States of Alabama and Rhode Island for leave to file complaints challenging the constitutionality of the Submerged Lands Act of 1953, are denied in view of Art. IV, § 3, cl. 2 of the Federal Constitution and the cases cited. Pp. 273-274.

Page 273

Per curiam opinion.


The motions for leave to file these complaints are denied. Article IV, § 3, Cl. 2, United States Constitution. United States v. Gratiot, 14 Pet. 526, 537: the power of Congress to dispose of any kind of property belonging to the United States "is vested in Congress without limitation." United States v. Midwest Oil Co., 236 U.S. 459, 474:

For it must be borne in mind that Congress not only has a legislative power over the public domain, but it also exercises the powers of the proprietor therein. Congress "may deal with such lands precisely as an ordinary individual may deal with farming property. It may sell or withhold them from sale." Camfield v. United States, 167 U.S. 518, 524; Light v. United States, 220 U.S. 523, 536.

United States v. San Francisco, 310 U.S. 16, 29-30:

Article 4, Section 3, Cl. 2 of the Constitution [74 S.Ct. 482] provides that "The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States." The power over the public land thus entrusted to Congress is without limitations. "And it is not for the courts to say how that trust shall be administered. That is for Congress to determine."

United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19, 27:

We have said that the constitutional

Page 274

power of Congress [under Article IV, § 3, Cl. 2] is without limitation. United States v. San Francisco, 310 U.S. 16, 29.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE took no part in the consideration or decision of these cases.

REED, J., concurring

MR. JUSTICE REED, concurring.

The per curiam opinion in these cases bases its conclusion that the Submerged Lands Act of 1953, 67 Stat. 29, is constitutional on the language in Art. IV, § 3, of the Constitution:

The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States. . . .

I agree with that result. Neither Alabama nor Rhode Island has questioned or would question that power if the applicability of that clause were accepted.

Those States, however, do not accept the applicability of the quoted clause. It is their position that the resources under the marginal sea do not, under United States v. Texas, 339 U.S. 707; United States v. Louisiana, 339 U.S. 699, and United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19, constitute property either of the United States or of any state. The complainant states assert those cases held that the "paramount rights" in the United States decreed by this Court arose from the sovereignty of the United States and the duty to provide for the common defense. Further, they urge that the rights are held in trust for all the states as a federal responsibility, and to cede them to individual states would take away the "equal footing" among states by extending state power into the domain of national responsibility. See United States v. Texas, supra, at 719, and Coyle v. Oklahoma, 221 U.S. 559.

This Court is the only court for the trial and discussion of the points upon which Alabama and Rhode Island

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rely. We have heard complainants on all these points, and I desire to state why I think the arguments extracted by the states from this Court's ruling authorities on these same rights do not justify a hearing.

The fact that Alabama and the defendant states were admitted into the Union "on an equal footing with the original states, in all respects whatever," 2 Stat. 701, 3 Stat. 489, 5 Stat. 742, 797, 9 Stat. 452, does not affect Congress' power to dispose of federal property. The requirement of equal footing does not demand that courts wipe out diversities "in the economic aspects of the several States," but calls for "parity as respects political standing and sovereignty." United States v. Texas, supra, at 716. The power of Congress to cede property to one state without corresponding cession to all states has been consistently recognized. See, e.g., United States v. Wyoming, 335 U.S. 895, and cases cited by the Court.

[74 S.Ct. 483] While this Court did not hold in express terms in the Texas, Louisiana, and California cases that the area in question belonged to the United States as proprietor, it did hold that

the Federal Government, rather than the state, has paramount rights in and power over that belt, an incident to which is full dominion over the resources of the soil under that water area, including oil.

332 U.S. at 38-39. This incident is a property right, and Congress had unlimited power to dispose of it.

If the marginal lands were thus declared by the California and following cases to belong to the United States, they were ceded to the states through the subsequent Submerged Lands Act of 1953 by the clause:

[T]itle to and ownership of the lands beneath navigable waters within the boundaries of the respective States, and the natural resources within such lands...

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