Mississippi v. Louisiana

PETITIONER: Mississippi
RESPONDENT: Louisiana On exception to the Report of the Special Master
LOCATION: Pittsburgh Party Headquarters

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1955-1956)

CITATION: 350 US 5 (1955)
ARGUED: Oct 10, 1955
DECIDED: Oct 17, 1955

Facts of the case


Media for Mississippi v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 10, 1955 in Mississippi v. Louisiana

Earl Warren:

The State of Mississippi versus the State of Louisiana.

Mr. Stewart.

Ashton L. Stewart:

May it please the Court.

This is a boundary dispute between the States of Mississippi and Louisiana.

The dispute actually is made up of two separate areas involving two separate disputes.

The first one is what has been spoken of in the trial and in the briefs as a Diamond Island Towhead area.

I believe I have some charts here from the offerings which will demonstrate more forcefully than what I can say the point at issue.

The Mississippi River in the 1860s that's flowing in this manner, down here, originally as it's probably straight but the point here spoken of is Diamond Point was gradually built and built it -- built out of here.

And somewhere between 18 -- back in 1866, there was an avulsion that took place that is the water cut itself a new channel through here and left this tip out in front.

Of course, under the law, the avulsion did not change the boundary with reference to the ownership of this particular island that remained in Mississippi.

Now, the question here in this particular dispute is where shall that boundary be?

The -- this Court in Arkansas versus Tennessee in 1918 had this to say with respect to boundaries that are in running streams between states.

It is said it's simply beyond the possibility of dispute that whenever a boundary is in a running stream and that stream is moved by the processes of erosion on one side and accretion to the other that the boundary continues with the stream and is not left behind.

In that case, the question there involved was the exception to that general rule, which is the case of an avulsion when the channel suddenly takes another course and leads or abandoned its former course.

In that case, the Court went on to say that in the case of an avulsion, the channel remains in the former stream and continues to remain there and to be moved by the processes of erosion and accretion so long as that old stream remains a running stream.

That is the point, the interpretation of that very language here.

The Special Master has cited the case of Arkansas versus Tennessee in his opinion and he has read into the language there that since the thalweg or the deepest portion of the channel is what is meant in the -- all of the jurisprudence of this Court as to where the boundary would be that when this Court used the word so long as this old channel remains a running stream, the Special Master has added to those words that so long as that is a running stream at low water or it seems to me that he has added additionally and is not subject to navigation at low water.

In other words, the crux of this case is what do the word "running stream" mean?

It is demonstrated, I would say very forcefully by this particular point here which was the point up stream from the island that the Master recommended be fixed as the upstream end of the boundary that is going to the main and the old channel.

This was -- this chart here was made by Suter's, chart made in 1874 from a reconnaissance of the river.

Now, our position is that if this remaining running stream and if this, the deepest portion of this old channel, the thalweg mended or was moved by the processes of erosion and accretion.

By then, this Court has already stated that that boundary was moved.

I believe we can better demonstrate by the next chart.

This is an excerpt from a Mississippi River Commission survey, different in some respect from the Suter reconnaissance.

This is the identical same area, four years to six years later.

This chart was finished on a survey made by the Mississippi River Commission during the years 1878, 1980.

It obviously showed a channel, still running there to the mouth of the island.

It obviously showed that some portion of Louisiana here has been built out.

We have superimposed on this chart since the Master has decided this location of the boundary where it should be at the time that low water first ceased the flow to that old channel and this is it in red line.

It is clear that that red line goes across land.