United States v. Louisiana Louisiana Boundary Case, 9

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation394 U.S. 11,22 L.Ed.2d 44,89 S.Ct. 773
Docket NumberO,No. 9,9
Decision Date03 March 1969

Archibald Cox, Washington, D.C., for plaintiff.

Victor A. Sachse, Baton Rouge, La., and J. B. Miller, New Orleans, La., for defendants.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

In United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1, 80 S.Ct. 961, 4 L.Ed.2d 1025, the Court held that by the Submerged Lands Act of 19531 the United States had quitclaimed to Louisiana the lands underlying the Gulf of Mexico within three geographical miles of the coastline.2 The United States was declared

entitled to the lands further seaward. In the decree, as in the Submerged Lands Act, 'coast line' was defined as 'the line of ordinary low water along that portion of the coast which is in direct contact with the open sea and the line marking the seaward limit of inland waters.'3 We reserved jurisdiction 'to entertain such further proceedings, enter such orders and issue such writs as may * * * be deemed necessary or advisable to give proper force and effect to this decree.'4 Before the Court now are cross-motions by the United States and Louisiana5 for a supplemental decree designating the boundary of the lands under the Gulf owned by Louisiana.6 The segments of that boundary line that

lie three miles outward from 'that portion of the coast which is in direct contact with the open sea' are for the most part easily determinable. The controversy here is primarily over the location of that part of the coastline that consists of 'the line marking the seaward limit of inland waters.'

More than three years ago, in United States v. California, 381 U.S. 139, 85 S.Ct. 1401, 14 L.Ed.2d 296, we held that Congress had left to the Court the task of defining 'inland waters' and we adopted for purposes of the Submerged Lands Act the definitions contained in the International Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, ratified by the United States in 1961. 7 The United States asserts that the same definitions should determine the location of the 'line marking the seaward limit of inland waters' of Louisiana. Louisiana, on the other hand, contends that this line has already been determined pursuant to an 1895 Act of Congress which directed the drawing of 'lines dividing the high seas from rivers, harbors and

inland waters,' and has proposed a decree based upon this contention. Alternatively, Louisiana argues that, even assuming the applicability of the definitions contained in the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, the decree proposed by the United States reflects too restrictive a construction of the Convention's provisions in derogation of relevant principles of international law.


The 'Inland Water Line.'

Comprehensive congressional regulation of maritime navigation began with the Act of April 29, 1864,8 which promulgated rules applicable to all vessels of domestic registry on any waters. These rules were patterned on emerging international standards, and when most other maritime nations subsequently changed their rules, the United States Congress in 1885 enacted conforming 'Revised International Rules and Regulations' to govern American ships 'upon the high seas and in all coast waters of the United States, except such as are otherwise provided for.'9 The 1864 Act was therefore repealed except as to navigation 'within the harbors, lakes, and inland waters of the United States.' 10 In 1889 the International Maritime Conference drafted new International Rules, which were promptly adopted by Congress.11 Article 30 of those rules provided that '(n)othing in these rules shall interfere with the operation of a special rule, duly made by local authority, relative to the navigation of any harbor, river, or inland waters.'12

The United States already had in the 1864 Act such special inland rules for ships of American registry. In order to clarify the areas and ships to which the International and Inland Rules would respectively apply,13 Congress in 1895 provided that the rules of the 1864 Act were to govern the navigation of all vessels 'on the harbors, rivers and inland waters of the United States.' 14 The 1895 Act went on to provide:

'The Secretary of the Treasury is hereby authorized, empowered and directed from time to time to designate and define by suitable bearings or ranges with light houses, light vessels, buoys or coast objects, the lines dividing the high seas from rivers, harbors and inland waters.'

The authority thus vested in the Secretary of the Treasury has since been transferred several times to various federal officials and now resides with the Commandant of the Coast Guard;15 and from time to time the lines authorized by the 1895 Act have been designated along portions of the United States coast. When the Submerged Lands Act was passed in 1953, such lines had been drawn in the Gulf only along some segments of the

Louisiana shore,16 but in that year the Commandant of the Coast Guard drew new lines applicable to all the waters off the Louisiana coast.17 In 1954 the Louisiana Legislature declared that it 'accepted and approved' this demarcation, which it now calls the 'Inland Water Line,' as its boundary.18 Louisiana now argues that this line encloses inland waters and is therefore 'the line marking the seaward limit of inland waters,' and thus its 'coastline' within the meaning of the Submerged Lands Act.19

Louisiana argues initially that the 1895 Act is in pari materia with the Submerged Lands Act. Congress, it is said, must have contemplated that a technical term such as 'inland waters' should have the same meaning in different statutes. The phrase appears, however, in quite different contexts in the two pieces of legislation. While the Submerged Lands Act established boundaries between the lands of the States and the Nation, Congress' only concern in the 1895 Act was with the problem of navigation in waters close to this Nation's shores. There is no evidence in the legislative history that it was the purpose of Congress in 1953 to tie the meaning of the phrase 'inland waters' to the 1895 statute. For

instance, during the Senate Committee hearings on the Submerged Lands Act, the following exchange took place between Senator Anderson and the Assistant Attorney General of Louisiana:

'Senator ANDERSON. Was there not a so-called Government line drawn along the coast of Louisiana?

'Mr. MADDEN. Only a partial line, Senator. I remember the old statute that authorized, I believe it was first assistant Attorney General of Louisiana: Treasury, to fix a line to show the demarcation between inland waters and the high seas. I think the Coast Guard has attempted to draw a partial line over on the east side of Louisiana.

'Senator ANDERSON. We went through all that in the hearing a couple of years ago, and found that was of no value to us whatsoever.'20

Louisiana's position that the Submerged Lands Act must necessarily be read as referring to the 1895 Act is thus not tenable.21 After a lengthy review of the legislative

history of the Submerged Lands Act in United States v. California, we reached the conclusion that Congress deliberately 'chose to leave the definition of inland waters where it found it—in the Court's hands.' 381 U.S. at 157, 85 S.Ct. at 1412. We adhere to that view, and turn to Louisiana's other arguments in support of the 'Inland Water Line.'

We further decided in United States v. California that the provisions of the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone were 'the best and most workable definitions available,' 381 U.S., at 165, 85 S.Ct., at 1415, and we adopted them for purposes of the Submerged Lands Act. Yet Louisiana asserts that the Court is not precluded by the California decision from adopting the 'Inland Water Line' in this case. Essentially the argument is that the Convention was not intended either to be the exclusive determinant of inland or territorial waters or to divest a nation of waters which it had long considered subject to its sole jurisdiction. By the long-standing, continuous, and unopposed exercise of jurisdiction to regulate navigation on waters within the 'Inland Water Line,' the United States is said to have established them as its inland waters under traditional principles of international law. Alternatively, Louisiana suggests that, even assuming the exclusivity of the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, the 'Inland Water Line,' by virtue of this assertion of sovereignty, has created 'historic bays' within the exception of

Article 7 of the Convention.22 We have concluded, however, that nothing in either the enactment of the 1895 Act or its administration indicates that the United States has ever treated that line as a territorial boundary.

Under generally accepted principles of international law, the navigable sea is divided into three zones, distinguished by the nature of the control which the contiguous nation can exercise over them.23 Nearest to the nation's shores are its inland, or internal waters. These are subject to the complete sovereignty of the nation, as much as if they were a part of its land territory, and the coastal nation has the privilege even to exclude foreign vessels altogether. Beyond the inland waters, and measured from their seaward edge, is a belt known as the marginal, or territorial sea.24 Within it the coastal nation may exercise extensive control but cannot deny the right of innocent passage to foreign nations.25

Outside the territorial sea are the high seas, which are international waters not subject to the dominion of any single nation.26

Whether particular waters are inland has depended on historical as well as geographical factors. Certain shoreline configurations have been...

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