United States v. States of Louisiana, Texas Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, No. 10

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtHARLAN
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff. v. STATES OF LOUISIANA, TEXAS, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA AND FLORIDA. riginal
Decision Date31 May 1960
Docket NumberO,No. 10

363 U.S. 1
80 S.Ct. 961
363 U.S. 121
4 L.Ed.2d 1025
4 L.Ed.2d 1096
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff.

v.

STATES OF LOUISIANA, TEXAS, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA AND FLORIDA.

No. 10, Original.
May 31, 1960.

[Syllabus from pages 1-3 intentionally omitted]

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Messrs. J. Lee Rankin, Sol. Gen., George S. Swarth, Washington, D.C., for the Government.

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Messrs. Jack P. F. Gremillion, Atty. Gen. of Louisiana, W. Scott Wilkinson, Sp. Asst. Atty. Gen., Victor A. Sachse, Baton Rouge, La., for State of Louisiana.

Messrs. Joe T. Patterson, Atty. Gen. of Mississippi, John H. Price, Asst. Atty. Gen., for State of Mississippi.

Messrs. Richard W. Ervin, Atty. Gen. of Florida, Spessard L. Holland, U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C., for State of Florida.

Messrs. Will Wilson, Atty. Gen. of Texas, Price Daniel, Governor of Texas, James P. Hart, J. Chrys Dougherty, Austin, Tex., for State of Texas.

Mr. Gordon Madison, Asst. Atty. Gen. of Alabama, for State of Alabama.

Mr. Justice HARLAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States, invoking our original jurisdiction under Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution, brought this suit against the States of Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama,

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and Florida, seeking a declaration that it is entitled to exclusive possession of, and full dominion and power over, the lands, minerals, and other natural resources underlying the waters of the Gulf of Mexico more than three geographical miles seaward from the coast of each State and extending to the edge of the Continental Shelf.1 The complaint also asks that the States be enjoined from interfering with the rights of the United States in that area, and that they be required to account for all sums of money derived by them therefrom since June 5, 1950.2 The case is now before us on the motions of the United States for judgment on the pleadings and for dismissal of Alabama's cross bill seeking to establish its rights to such submerged lands and resources within three marine leagues of its coast.

The controversy is another phase of the more than 20 years' dispute between the coastal States and the Federal Government over their respective rights to exploit the oil and other natural resources of offshore submerged lands. In 1947 this Court held that, as against California, the United States possessed paramount rights in such lands underlying the Pacific Ocean seaward of the low-water mark on the coast of California and outside of inland waters. United States v. State of California, 332 U.S. 19, 67 S.Ct. 1658, 91 L.Ed. 1889; 332 U.S. 804, 68 S.Ct., 20, 92 L.Ed. 382. And on June 5, 1950, the Court, following the principles announced in the California case, made like holdings with respect to submerged lands in the Gulf of Mexico similarly lying off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas, and directed both States to account to the United States for all sums derived from natural resources in those areas after that date. United States v. State of Louisiana, 339 U.S. 699, 70 S.Ct. 914, 94 L.Ed. 1216; 340

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U.S. 899, 71 S.Ct. 275, 95 L.Ed. 651; United States v. State of Texas, 339 U.S. 707, 70 S.Ct. 918, 94 L.Ed. 1221;340 U.S. 900, 71 S.Ct. 276, 95 L.Ed. 652.3

On May 22, 1953, Congress, following earlier repeated unsuccessful attempts at legislation dealing with state and federal rights in submerged lands,4 passed the Submerged Lands Act, 67 Stat. 29, 43 U.S.C. §§ 1301—1315, 43 U.S.C.A. §§ 1301 1315. By that Act the United States relinquished to the coastal States all of its rights in such lands within certain geographical limits, and confirmed its own rights

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therein beyond those limits. The Act was sustained in State of Alabama v. State of Texas, 347 U.S. 272, 74 S.Ct. 481, 98 L.Ed. 689, as a constitutional exercise of Congress' power to dispose of federal property, Const.Art. IV, § 3, cl. 2. Since the Act concededly did not impair the validity of the California, Louisiana, and Texas cases, which are admittedly applicable to all coastal States, this case draws in question only the geographic extent to which the statute ceded to the States the federal rights established by those decisions.

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The purposes of the Submerged Lands Act are described in its title as follows:

'To confirm and establish the titles of the States to lands beneath navigable waters within State boundaries and to the natural resources within such lands and waters, to provide for the use and control of said lands and resources, and to confirm the jurisdiction and control of the United States over the natural resources of the seabed of the Continental Shelf seaward of State boundaries.'

To effectuate these purposes the Act, in pertinent part—

1. relinquishes to the States the entire interest of the United States in all lands beneath navigable waters within state boundaries (§ 3, 43 U.S.C. § 1311, 43 U.S.C.A. § 1311);5

2. defines that area in terms of state boundaries 'as they existed at the time (a) State became a member of the

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Union, or as heretofore approved by the Congress,' not extending, however, seaward from the coast of any State more than three marine leagues6 in the Gulf of Mexico or more than three geographical miles in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans (§ 2, 43 U.S.C. § 1301, 43 U.S.C.A. § 1301);7

3. confirms to each State a seaward boundary of three geographical miles, without 'questioning or in any manner prejudicing the existence of any State's seaward boundary beyond three geographical miles if it was so provided by its constitution or laws prior to or at the time such State became a member of the Union, or if it has

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been heretofore approved by Congress' (§ 4, 43 U.S.C. § 1312, 43 U.S.C.A. § 1312);8 and

4. For purposes of commerce, navigation, national defense, and international affairs, reserves to the United States all constitutional powers of regulation and control over the areas within which the proprietary interests of the States are recognized (§ 6(a), 43 U.S.C. § 1314, 43 U.S.C.A. § 1314);9 and retains in the United States all rights in submerged lands lying beyond those areas to the seaward limits of the Continental Shelf (§ 9, 43 U.S.C. § 1302, 43 U.S.C.A. § 1302).10

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The United States concedes that the statute grants to each of the defendant States submerged land rights in the Gulf of Mexico to the extent of three geographical miles, but contends that none of them is entitled to anything more. The States, conceding that three leagues is the limit of the statute's grant in the Gulf contend that each of them is entitled to that much. The wide-ranging arguments of the parties, reflecting no doubt the magnitude of the economic interests at stake,11 can be reduced to the following basic contentions:

The Government starts with the premise that the Act grants submerged land rights to a distance of more than three miles only to the extent that a Gulf State can show, in accordance with § 2(b) of the Act, either that it had a legally established seaward boundary in excess of three miles at the time of its admission to the Union, or that such a boundary was thereafter approved for it by Congress prior to the passage of the Submerged Lands Act. It is contended that the Act did not purport to determine, fix, or change the boundary of any State, but left it to the courts to ascertain whether a particular State had a seaward boundary meeting either of these requirements. The Government then urges, as to any State relying on its original seaward boundary, that the Act contemplates as the measure of the grant a boundary which existed subsequent to a State's admission to the

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Union, and not one which existed only prior to admission—in other words, a boundary carrying the legal consequences of the event of admission. It reasons from this that since a State's seaward boundary cannot be greater than the national maritime boundary, and since the national boundary was at all relevant times never greater than three miles, no State could have had a seaward boundary in excess of three miles, regardless of what it may have claimed prior to admission. Further, the Government undertakes to show that, irrespective of the extent of the national maritime boundary, none of these States ever had a valid seaward boundary in excess of three miles, even prior to admission, and that no such boundary was thereafter approved by Congress for any State.

The States, on the other hand, make several alternative arguments. At one extreme, they contend that the Submerged Lands Act ipso facto makes a three-league grant to all the Gulf States, or at least that the Act by its terms establishes the seaward boundary of some States, notably Texas and Florida, at three leagues. Alternatively, they argue that if the extent of such state boundaries 'at the time' of admission was left to judicial determination, then the controlling inquiry is what seaward boundary each State had just prior to admission. If, however, the Act contemplates a boundary as fixed by the event of admission, each State contends that Congress fixed for it a three-league Gulf boundary, and that whatever may have been the extent of the national maritime boundary at the time is an irrelevant factor. Florida further contends that when it was readmitted to the Union in 1868, Congress approved for it a three-league Gulf boundary. And finally the States argue that if the national boundary is in any way relevant, it has at all material times in fact been at three leagues in the Gulf of Mexico.

Both sides have presented in support of their respective positions a massive array of historical documents, of which

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we take judicial notice, and substantially agree that all the issues tendered can properly be disposed of on the basis of the pleadings and such documents.

In this opinion we consider the issues arising in common between the Government and all the defendant States, and the particular claims of Texas,...

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113 practice notes
  • Nw. Austin Mun. Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder, No. 08–322.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 22, 2009
    ...between the States, despite our historic tradition that all the States enjoy “equal sovereignty.” United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1, 16, 80 S.Ct. 961, 4 L.Ed.2d 1025 (1960) (citing Lessee of Pollard v. Hagan, 3 How. 212, 223, 11 L.Ed. 565 (1845) ); see also Texas v. White, 7 Wall. 700,......
  • Made in the Usa Foundation v. U.S., No. CV-98-PT-1794M.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • July 23, 1999
    ...1854, 48 L.Ed.2d 301 (1976) ("the conduct of [foreign policy] is committed primarily to the Executive Branch"); United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1, 35, 80 S.Ct. 961, 4 L.Ed.2d 1025 (1960) (President is "the constitutional representative of the United States in its dealings with foreign ......
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    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • March 3, 2011
    ...the territorial limits of its sovereignty, any such extension is "subject to the consent of other nations." See United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1, 34 (1960); see also United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19, 35 (1947) (stating that "whatever any nation does in the open sea, which detr......
  • In re Air Crash off Long Island, NY
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • July 17, 1996
    ...10 miles), based on the boundaries extant when Texas was admitted, and Florida readmitted, into the Union. See United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1, 64 (1960); United States v. Florida, 363 U.S. 121, 128-29 9. See Douglas W. Kmiec, Office of Legal Counsel, Legal Issues Raised by the Propo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
111 cases
  • Nw. Austin Mun. Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder, No. 08–322.
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 22, 2009
    ...between the States, despite our historic tradition that all the States enjoy “equal sovereignty.” United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1, 16, 80 S.Ct. 961, 4 L.Ed.2d 1025 (1960) (citing Lessee of Pollard v. Hagan, 3 How. 212, 223, 11 L.Ed. 565 (1845) ); see also Texas v. White, 7 Wall. 700,......
  • Made in the Usa Foundation v. U.S., No. CV-98-PT-1794M.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • July 23, 1999
    ...1854, 48 L.Ed.2d 301 (1976) ("the conduct of [foreign policy] is committed primarily to the Executive Branch"); United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1, 35, 80 S.Ct. 961, 4 L.Ed.2d 1025 (1960) (President is "the constitutional representative of the United States in its dealings with foreign ......
  • Westerngeco L.L.C v. Ion Geophysical Corp., Case No. 4:09-cv-1827
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • March 3, 2011
    ...the territorial limits of its sovereignty, any such extension is "subject to the consent of other nations." See United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1, 34 (1960); see also United States v. California, 332 U.S. 19, 35 (1947) (stating that "whatever any nation does in the open sea, which detr......
  • In re Air Crash off Long Island, NY
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • July 17, 1996
    ...10 miles), based on the boundaries extant when Texas was admitted, and Florida readmitted, into the Union. See United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1, 64 (1960); United States v. Florida, 363 U.S. 121, 128-29 9. See Douglas W. Kmiec, Office of Legal Counsel, Legal Issues Raised by the Propo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
2 books & journal articles
  • Rethinking the Supreme Court’s Interstate Waters Jurisprudence
    • United States
    • Georgetown Environmental Law Review Nbr. 33-2, January 2021
    • January 1, 2021
    ...Equal Sovereignty, 114 MICH. L. REV. 1207, 1210 (2016) (f‌inding at the core of cases like Pollard’s Lessee and United States v. Louisiana, 363 U.S. 1, 16 (1960), a “historic tradition that all the States enjoy equal sovereignty.”). 21. Coyle v. Smith, 221 U.S. 559, 567 (1911). 22. See Litm......
  • Overcoming Impediments to Offshore CO2 Storage: Legal Issues in the United States and Canada
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    • Environmental Law Reporter Nbr. 49-7, July 2019
    • July 1, 2019
    ...coastline. See generally United States v. Louisiana, 100 S. Ct. 1618 (1980), 420 U.S. 529 (1975), 394 U.S. 11 (1969), 389 U.S. 155 (1967), 363 U.S. 1 (1960), 339 U.S. 699 (1950). 46. 43 U.S.C. §1311(a)(1). he term “natural resources” is deined to include, without limitation, “oil, gas, and ......

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