United States v. Maine 24 8212 25, 1975, No. 35

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtWHITE
PartiesUNITED STATES, Plaintiff, v. State of MAINE et al. rig. Argued Feb. 24—25, 1975
Decision Date17 March 1975
Docket NumberNo. 35,O

420 U.S. 515
95 S.Ct. 1155
43 L.Ed.2d 363
UNITED STATES, Plaintiff,

v.

State of MAINE et al.

No. 35, Orig.
Argued Feb. 24—25, 1975.
Decided March 17, 1975.

Syllabus

The United States, to the exclusion of defendant Atlantic Coastal States, held to have sovereign rights over the seabed and subsoil underlying the Atlantic Ocean, lying more than three geographical miles seaward from the ordinary low-water mark and from the outer limits of inland coastal waters, extending seaward to the outer edge of the Continental Shelf, that area, like the seabed adjacent to the coastline, being in the domain of the Nation rather than of the separate States. United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19, 67 S.Ct. 1658, 91 L.Ed. 1889; United States v. Louisiana, 339 U.S. 699, 70 S.Ct. 918, 94 L.Ed. 1221; United States v. Texas, 339 U.S. 707, 70 S.Ct. 918, 94 L.Ed. 1221. And this rule that the paramount rights to the offshore seabed inhere in the Federal Government as an incident of national sovereignty is confirmed by both the Submerged Lands Act of 1953 and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953. Pp. 519-528.

Brice M. Clagett, Washington, D.C., for defendants.

Sol. Gen. Robert Bork, for plaintiff.

Page 516

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court under Art. III, § 2 of the Constitution, and 28 U.S.C. § 1251(b), the United States in April 1969 asked leave to file a complaint against the 13 States bordering on the Atlantic Ocean—Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland,

[Amicus Curiae Information from page 516 intentionally omitted]

Page 517

Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.1 We granted leave to file, 395 U.S. 955, 89 S.Ct. 2095, 23 L.Ed.2d 743, on June 16, 1969. The complaint asserted a separate cause of action against each of the States which alleged that:

'(T)he United States is now entitled, to the exclusion of the defendant State, to exercise sovereign rights over the seabed and subsoil underlying the Atlantic Ocean, lying more than three geographical miles seaward from the ordinary low-water mark and from the outer limit of inland waters on the coast, extending seaward to the outer edge of the continental shelf, for the purpose of exploring the area and exploiting its natural resources.'

It was further alleged that each of the States claimed some right or title to the relevant area and was interfering with the rights of the United States. It was therefore prayed that a decree be entered declaring the rights of the United States and that such further relief be awarded as might prove proper. 2

The defendants answered, each generally denying proprietary rights of the United States in the seabed in the area beyond the three-mile marginal sea. Each of them, except Florida,3 claimed for itself, as successor in title

Page 518

to certain grantees of the Crown of England (and in the case of New York, to the Crown of Holland), the exclusive right of dominion and control over the seabed underlying the Atlantic Ocean seaward from its coastline to the limits of the jurisdiction of the United States, asserting as well that any attempt by the United States to interfere with these rights would in itself violate the Constitution of the United States.4

Without acting on the motion for judgment filed by the United States that asserted that there was no material issue of fact to be resolved, we entered an order appointing the Honorable Albert B. Maris as Special Master and referred the case to him with authority to request further pleadings, to summon witnesses, and to take such evidence and submit such reports as he might deem appropriate. 398 U.S. 947, 90 S.Ct. 1864, 26 L.Ed.2d 286 (1970). Before the Special Master, the United States contended that based on United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19, 67 S.Ct. 1658, 91 L.Ed. 1889 (1947), United States v. Louisiana, 339 U.S. 699, 70 S.Ct. 914, 94 L.Ed. 1216 (1950), and United States v. Texas, 339 U.S. 707, 70 S.Ct. 918, 94 L.Ed. 1221 (1950), it was entitled to judgment in accordance with its motion. The defendant States asserted that their cases were distinguishable from the prior cases and that in any event, California, Louisiana, and Texas were erroneously decided and should be

Page 519

overruled. They offered, and the Special Master received, voluminous documentary evidence to support their claims that, contrary to the Court's prior decisions, they acquired dominion over the offshore seabed prior to the adoption of the Constitution and at no time relinquished it to the United States. At the conclusion of the proceeding before him, the Special Master submitted a Report (hereinafter Report) which the United States supports in all respects, but to which the States have submitted extensive and detailed exceptions. The controversy is now before us on the Report, the exceptions to it, and the briefs and oral arguments of the parties.

In his Report, the Special Master concluded that the California, Louisiana, and Texas cases, which he deemed binding on him, governed this case and required that judgment be entered for the United States. Assuming, however, that those cases were open to re-examination, the Special Master went on independently to examine the legal and factual contentions of the States and concluded that they were without merit and that the Court's prior cases should be reaffirmed.

We fully agree with the Special Master that California, Louisiana, and Texas rule the issues before us. We also decline to overrule those cases as the defendant States request us to do.

United States v. California, supra, involved an original action brought in this Court by the United States seeking a decree declaring its paramount rights, to the exclusion of California, to the seabed underlying the Pacific Ocean and extending three miles from the coastline and from the seaward limits of the State's inland waters. California answered, claiming ownership of the disputed seabed. The basis of its claim, as the Court described it, was that the three-mile belt lay within the historic boundaries of the State; 'that the original thirteen states acquired from

Page 520

the Crown of England title to all lands within their boundaries under navigable waters, including a three-mile belt in adjacent seas; and that since California was admitted as a state on an 'equal footing' with the original states, California at that time became vested with title to all such lands.' 332 U.S., at 23, 67 S.Ct. at 1660. The Court rejected California's claim. The original Colonies had not 'separately acquired ownership to the three-mile belt or the soil under it, even if they did acquire elements of the sovereignty of the English Crown by their revolution against it.' Id., at 31, 67 S.Ct., at 1665. As the Court viewed our history, dominion over the marginal sea was first accomplished by the National Government rather than by the Colonies or by the States. Moreover, the Court went on to hold that the 'protection and control of (the marginal sea) has been and is a function of national external sovereignty,' id., at 34, 67 S.Ct., at 1666, and that in our constitutional system paramount rights over the ocean waters and their seabed were vested in the Federal Government.

The United States later brought actions to confirm its title to the seabed adjacent to the coastline of other States. United States v. Louisiana, supra, was one of them. There Louisiana claimed title to the seabed under waters extending 27 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, the basis of the claim being that before and since the time of its admission to the Union, Louisiana had exercised dominion over the ocean area in question and that her legislature had formally included the 27-mile belt within the boundaries of the State. The Court gave judgment for the United States, holding that United States v. California was controlling and emphasizing that paramount rights in the marginal sea and seabed were incidents of national sovereignty:

'As we pointed out in United States v. California, the issue in this class of litigation does not turn on

Page 521

title or ownership in the conventional sense. California, like the thirteen original colonies, never acquired ownership in the marginal sea. The claim to our three-mile belt was first asserted by the national government. Protection and control of the area are indeed functions of national external sovereignty. 332 U.S. pp. 31—34, 67 S.Ct. pages 1664—1665, 91 L.Ed. 1889. The marginal sea is a national, not a state concern. National interests, national responsibilities, national concerns are involved. The problems of commerce, national defense, relations with other powers, war and peace focus there. National rights must therefore be paramount in that area.' 339 U.S., at 704, 70 S.Ct. at 916.

Louisiana had 'no stronger claim to ownership of the marginal sea than the original thirteen colonies or California had,' id., at 705, 70 S.Ct. at 917; and its...

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49 practice notes
  • Ten Taxpayer Citizens Group v. Cape Wind Assocs., No. 03-2323.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • June 28, 2004
    ...rights to the offshore seabed inhere in the Federal Government as an incident of national sovereignty." United States v. Maine (Maine I), 420 U.S. 515, 524, 95 S.Ct. 1155, 43 L.Ed.2d 363 (1975). In a series of cases beginning in 1947, the Supreme Court established that the United States enj......
  • Headwaters Inc. v. U.S. Forest Service, No. 01-35898.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 8, 2004
    ...1391, make it unlikely that district courts will reach contrary results in cases raising identical challenges. See United States v. Maine, 420 U.S. 515, 527, 95 S.Ct. 1155, 43 L.Ed.2d 363 (1975) ("[T]he defendant[s] ... were not parties to [earlier suits] ... and they are not precluded by r......
  • Parker Drilling Mgmt. Servs., Ltd. v. Newton, No. 18-389
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 10, 2019
    ...of exclusive jurisdiction in the area and for the leasing and development of the resources of the seabed." United States v. Maine , 420 U. S. 515, 527, 95 S.Ct. 1155, 43 L.Ed.2d 363 (1975) ; see §§ 1334–1354.Of primary relevance here, the OCSLA defines the body of law that governs the OCS. ......
  • U.S. v. Alaska, 84
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 19, 1997
    ...the submerged lands lying within 3-mile bands surrounding their coasts. See §3(a), 43 U.S.C. §1311(a); see also United States v. Maine, 420 U.S. 515, 525, 95 S.Ct. 1155, 1160-1161, 43 L.Ed.2d 363 (1975). The Act declared it in the "public interest that (1) title to and ownership of the land......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
49 cases
  • Ten Taxpayer Citizens Group v. Cape Wind Assocs., No. 03-2323.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • June 28, 2004
    ...rights to the offshore seabed inhere in the Federal Government as an incident of national sovereignty." United States v. Maine (Maine I), 420 U.S. 515, 524, 95 S.Ct. 1155, 43 L.Ed.2d 363 (1975). In a series of cases beginning in 1947, the Supreme Court established that the United States enj......
  • Headwaters Inc. v. U.S. Forest Service, No. 01-35898.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 8, 2004
    ...1391, make it unlikely that district courts will reach contrary results in cases raising identical challenges. See United States v. Maine, 420 U.S. 515, 527, 95 S.Ct. 1155, 43 L.Ed.2d 363 (1975) ("[T]he defendant[s] ... were not parties to [earlier suits] ... and they are not precluded by r......
  • Parker Drilling Mgmt. Servs., Ltd. v. Newton, No. 18-389
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 10, 2019
    ...of exclusive jurisdiction in the area and for the leasing and development of the resources of the seabed." United States v. Maine , 420 U. S. 515, 527, 95 S.Ct. 1155, 43 L.Ed.2d 363 (1975) ; see §§ 1334–1354.Of primary relevance here, the OCSLA defines the body of law that governs the OCS. ......
  • U.S. v. Alaska, 84
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 19, 1997
    ...the submerged lands lying within 3-mile bands surrounding their coasts. See §3(a), 43 U.S.C. §1311(a); see also United States v. Maine, 420 U.S. 515, 525, 95 S.Ct. 1155, 1160-1161, 43 L.Ed.2d 363 (1975). The Act declared it in the "public interest that (1) title to and ownership of the land......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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