Andrus v. Utah

LOCATION: Atlanta, Georgia

DOCKET NO.: 78-1522
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

CITATION: 446 US 500 (1980)
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1979
DECIDED: May 19, 1980

Peter Buscemi - on behalf of the Petitioner
Richard L. Dewsnup - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Andrus v. Utah

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1979 in Andrus v. Utah

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in 78-1522, Andrus v. Utah.

Mr. Buscemi, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Peter Buscemi:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court.

This case is on here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit and presents a question concerning the discretion to be exercised by the Secretary of the Interior in reviewing state applications for public lands to replace lost school lands and the roots of this controversy go back a long way.

As new states were created out of federal territories throughout the 19th Century, Congress granted the states one or more enumerated sections in each township for school purposes.

When Ohio joined the union in 1803, it became the first state to receive such a grant.

Throughout the first half of the 19th Century, most states received one section per township, section 16, and then beginning with California in 1853 the general rule was two sections of township, and Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico were the only states that upon joining the union received four school sections in every township throughout the state.

Now, the problem presented in this case arises from the fact that the designated numbered sections specifically granted to the states by Congress were sometimes unavailable for any one of a variety of reasons.

Sometimes a given section was homesteaded or it had been placed in a national park or a national forest, or perhaps an Indian reservation, and most obviously, sometimes a township was fractional and the enumerated section simply didn't exist.

So recognizing that possibility, Congress provided for it and said that states that receive school lands could, if any of the specifically enumerated sections were unavailable, select other unappropriated public lands as replacements for the lost sections.

The selections authorized by Congress are called indemnity selections or in lieu selections.

Now, this case concerns a series of 194 such selections filed by the State of Utah between 1965 and 1971.

The selections --

Potter Stewart:

How many sections in a full township, 32?

Peter Buscemi:


Potter Stewart:


Peter Buscemi:

That's right.

The Utah selections cover about 194, 157,000 acres in the northeast portion of the state.

William H. Rehnquist:

Why has it taken the secretary so long to pass on any of these selections?

Peter Buscemi:

Well, Mr. Justice Rehnquist, there are a variety of reasons which we've set out in some detail in the brief.

In addition to the controversy over the grossly disparate value policy before the Court today, there has also been a delay associated with the actual appraisal in estimating the value of the base lands and the selective lands.

William H. Rehnquist:

I can see where there could be a delay of several years, and I can see why there could be delays on particular sections, but to just have a complete blockage for a period of more than ten years strikes me as quite unusual.

Peter Buscemi:

Well, I mean, for one thing this case has been in litigation now for five years, so that takes it back to 1974.

Now, that's about nine years from the date of the beginning selection.

But there was an intervening event, the passage of the National Environment Policy Act in 1969 which raised the question about the applicability of the environmental impact statement requirement to a state indemnity selection.

Now, that question is not before the Court today.

To some extent the resolution of the question may depend on the outcome of this case.

If the secretary has the discretion that he contends he has, then his decision to approve or disapprove selection may involve a major federal action that would require an environmental impact statement.

But that all is not here now because of the way the District Court and the Court of Appeals resolved this litigation.

So --