California v. Nevada

PETITIONER: California
LOCATION: Police Car

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)

CITATION: 447 US 125 (1980)
ARGUED: Apr 14, 1980
DECIDED: Jun 10, 1980

Jan S. Stevens - on behalf of the Plaintiff
James H. Thompson - on behalf of the Defendant

Facts of the case


Media for California v. Nevada

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 14, 1980 in California v. Nevada

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next this afternoon in the State of California v. the State of Nevada.

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

James H. Thompson:

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

The State of Nevada submits that the real issue in this case is whether California and Nevada in 1863 constitutionally set their joint State boundary.

Nevada submits that they did.

The second question is assuming that boundary was constitutionally set, that the United States, whether they had the power to move it onto a new land.

Nevada submits that the United States did not have this power under the Constitution.

Nevada does concede that if this were a proper case for application of the doctrine of acquiescence that Nevada has acquiesced in the present marked lines, the lines recommended by the Master.

We submit that this is not a case for the application of the doctrine of acquiescence, because to apply the doctrine in this case would confer upon the Executive branch of the Government the power to act upon State boundaries.

And this Court in Rhode Island v. Massachusetts many years ago said.

"There can be but two tribunals under the Constitution who can act on the boundaries of States, the legislative or the judicial power, the former is limited, in express terms, to assent or dissent, where a compact or agreement is referred to them" -- meaning Congress.

William H. Rehnquist:

You say acquiescence is inapplicable here and your reason for it is that it is the United States that made the mistake?

James H. Thompson:

Yes, sir, it is our contention that the United States had no power to move the boundary under the Constitution.

Therefore --

William H. Rehnquist:

Why is acquiescence any less persuasive in a situation like that than where it simply drafts a wrong decision of this Court or a mistaken decision of this Court or a mistake in a surveyor's note?

James H. Thompson:

We contend that the failure of the power of the United States to move the boundary goes to California's claim of right in which acquiescence has always been applied on the claim of right in the State.

In all the boundary decisions of this Court there has always been an enabling Act or something of that nature, a concession from Virginia to the United States, a monument of title, a color of title.

And California, we contend, does not have that because they claim the United States has wrongfully moved, taken part of Nevada and given it to California.

Byron R. White:

I take it that if we adopt the Special Master's report and if you take the Special Master's -- it includes, what, 5,000 acres of land or so, that the United States purported to give to Nevada?

James H. Thompson:

It is approximately 218 square miles.

Byron R. White:

The land that the United States purported to give to Nevada and Nevada purported to convey to settlers.

James H. Thompson:

Forty-six hundred acres, Your Honor.

Byron R. White:

And then those titles resting in the change from U.S. to Nevada to owners, that land will now be in California.

James H. Thompson:

That land would be in California by the Master's decree.

But concurrently with that, California --

Byron R. White:

Let me ask you, What is your interest?

James H. Thompson:

Interest in those patents?

Byron R. White:

What is your interest, is it just a matter of jurisdiction and whether the land is in Nevada or not?

James H. Thompson:

Yes, territorial sovereignty, Your Honor.

Byron R. White:

That is it?