363 U.S. 121 (1960), 10, United States v. Florida

Docket Nº:No. 10, Original
Citation:363 U.S. 121, 80 S.Ct. 961, 4 L.Ed.2d 1025, 4 L.Ed.2d 1096
Party Name:United States v. Florida
Case Date:May 31, 1960
Court:United States Supreme Court

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363 U.S. 121 (1960)

80 S.Ct. 961, 4 L.Ed.2d 1025, 4 L.Ed.2d 1096

United States



No. 10, Original

United States Supreme Court

May 31, 1960

Argued October 12-15, 1959



In this suit by the United States under Art. III, § 2 of the Constitution, held: the Submerged Lands Act grants Florida a three marine league belt of land under the Gulf of Mexico, seaward from its coastline, as described in Florida's 1868 Constitution, which was approved by Congress when Florida was readmitted to representation in Congress after the Civil War. Pp. 121-129.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This controversy involves the interests of all five Gulf States -- Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama -- in the submerged lands off their shores. The Court heard the claims together, but treats them in two opinions. This opinion deals solely with Florida's claims. The result as to the other States is discussed in one opinion, ante, p. 1. All the claims arise and are decided under the Submerged Lands Act of 1953.1

The Act granted to all coastal States the lands and resources under navigable waters extending three geographical miles seaward from their coastlines. In addition

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to the three miles, the five Gulf States were granted the submerged lands as far out as each State's boundary line either "as it existed at the time such State became a member of the Union," or as previously "approved by Congress," even though that boundary extended further than three geographical miles seaward. But in no event was any State to have "more than three marine leagues into the Gulf of Mexico."2 This suit was first brought against Louisiana by the United States, United States v. Louisiana, 350 U.S. 990, invoking our original jurisdiction under ART. III, § 2, cl. 2, of the Constitution, [80 S.Ct. 1027] to determine whether Louisiana's boundary when it became a member of the Union extended three leagues or more into the Gulf, as Louisiana claimed, so as to entitle it to the maximum three-league grant of the Submerged Lands Act. After argument on the Government's motion for judgment against Louisiana, we suggested that the interests of all the Gulf States under the Act were so related "that the just, orderly, and effective

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determination" of the issues required that all those States be before the Court. United States v. Louisiana, 354 U.S. 515, 516. All are now defendants, each has claimed a three-league boundary and grant, which the United States denies, and the issues have been extensively briefed and argued by the parties. As stated, this opinion deals only with the United States-Florida controversy.

Florida contends that the record shows it to be entitled under the Act to a declaration of ownership of three marine leagues of submerged lands, because (1) its boundary extended three leagues or more seaward into the Gulf when it became a State, and (2) Congress approved such a three-league boundary for Florida after its admission into the Union and before passage of the Submerged Lands Act. Since we agree with Florida's latter contention, as to congressional approval, we find it unnecessary to decide the boundaries of Florida at the time it became a State.

Florida claims that Congress approved its three-league boundary in 1868, by approving3 a constitution submitted to Congress as required by a Reconstruction Act passed March 2, 1867. 14 Stat. 428. That constitution carefully described Florida's boundary on the Gulf of Mexico side as running from a point in the Gulf "three leagues from the mainland" and "thence northwestwardly three leagues from the land" to the next point.4 The

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United States concedes that, from 1868 to the present day, Florida has claimed by its constitutions a three-league boundary into the Gulf.5 The United States also admits that Florida submitted this constitution to Congress in 1868, but denies that the Gulf boundary it defined was "approved" by Congress within the meaning of the Submerged Lands Act.6 This is the decisive question as between Florida and the United States.

The 1868 Florida Constitution was written and adopted by Florida pursuant to the congressional Act of March 2, 1867,7 as supplemented by a second Act of March 23, 1867.8 These Reconstruction Acts purported "to provide for the more efficient government of the Rebel States," including Florida. The States involved were divided into military districts and subject to strict military authority. Detailed provisions were made [80 S.Ct. 1028] for registration of voters, election of delegates to constitutional conventions, the framing of constitutions "in conformity with the provisions" of these Reconstruction Acts, and submission of the constitutions to the people of those States for their ratification and approval -- all under the supervision and control of commanding generals. Constitutions so adopted were then to be "submitted to Congress for examination and approval," after which approval by Congress, and after ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment by each State, each should be "declared entitled to representation in Congress." Florida's Constitution was written,

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considered, and voted upon in the State in accordance with these statutory directions and under the eye and control of an Army general. When submitted to Congress, it was much debated, and thereafter, on June 25, 1868, another Act was passed authorizing the admission of Florida and other Southern States "to Representation in Congress."9 15 Stat. 73. The preamble to this "Admission Act" declared that these States had adopted their constitutions "in pursuance of the provisions" of the 1867 Acts, which Acts, as has been pointed out, required "examination and approval" of the constitutions as a prerequisite to readmission of congressional representation. Thus, by its own description, Congress not only approved Florida's Constitution, which included three-league boundaries, but Congress, in 1868, approved it within the meaning of the 1867 Acts. In turn, the approval the 1867 Acts required appears to be precisely the approval the 1953 Act contemplates.

The Government argues, however, that these readmission enactments did not contemplate, and Congress did not make, a general scrutiny of all the provisions of the state constitutions, but only that the constitutions had been duly adopted and were republican in form. The Government makes many references to debates which indicated that some Senators and Congressmen were satisfied with such a limited examination of the constitutions.10 Florida, on the other hand, points out many

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other remarks which indicated a much closer examination of the state constitutions.11

It is beyond doubt that the proposed constitutions were printed, then read, discussed, and amended in the Congress. For instance, the very 1868 bill that admitted Florida's congressional representatives contained a proviso rejecting certain parts of the Georgia Constitution.12 That at least some Congressmen scrutinized the constitutions [80 S.Ct. 1029] to see if amendments were necessary is persuasively shown by the remarks of Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, set out below.13 Mr. Stevens was Chairman of the

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all-important Joint Committee on Reconstruction, and, because of his leading role as architect of the reconstruction plan finally adopted and carried out by Congress, has appropriately been called "the Father of the Reconstruction."14

The voluminous references to the Reconstruction debates fail to show us precisely how closely the Southern States' Reconstruction Constitutions were examined. We cannot know, for sure, whether all or any of the Congressmen or Senators gave special attention to Florida's boundary description. We are sure, however, that this constitution was examined and approved as a whole, regardless of how thorough that examination may have been, and we think that the 1953 Submerged Lands Act requires no more than this. Moreover, the Hearings and the Reports on the Submerged Lands Act show, as the Government's brief concedes, that those who wrote into that measure a provision whereby a State was granted up to three leagues if such a boundary had been "heretofore approved by Congress," had their minds specifically focused on Florida's claim based on submission of its 1868 Constitution to Congress. When Florida's claims were mentioned in the hearings, it was generally assumed that Congress had previously "approved" its three-league

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boundaries.15 The Senate Report on a prior bill, set forth as a part of the report on the 1953 Act, pointed out that,

In 1868, Congress approved the Constitution of Florida, in which its boundaries were defined as extending 3 marine leagues seaward and a like distance into the Gulf of Mexico.

S.Rep.No. 133, 83d Cong., 1 Sess. 64-65.16 The language of the Submerged Lands Act was at least in part designed to [80 S.Ct. 1030] give Florida an opportunity to prove its right to adjacent submerged lands so as to remedy what the Congress evidently felt had been an injustice to Florida. Upon proof that Florida's claims met the statutory standard -- "boundaries . . . heretofore approved by the Congress" -- the Act was intended to "confirm" and "restore" the three-league ownership Florida had claimed as its own so long, and which claim this Court had in effect rejected in 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. As previously shown, Congress, in 1868, did approve Florida's claim to a boundary three leagues from its shores. And, as we have held, the 1953 Act was within the power of

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Congress to enact. Alabama v. Texas, 347 U.S. 272...

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