Mississippi v. Louisiana

PETITIONER: Mississippi et al.
RESPONDENT: Louisiana et al.
LOCATION: Superior Court of the District of Columbia

DOCKET NO.: 91-1158
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1991-1993)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

CITATION: 506 US 73 (1992)
ARGUED: Nov 09, 1992
DECIDED: Dec 14, 1992

ADVOCATES:
Gary L. Keyser - on behalf of the Respondents
James W. McCartney - on behalf of the Petitioners

Facts of the case

Question

Media for Mississippi v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 09, 1992 in Mississippi v. Louisiana

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in Number 91-1158, Mississippi v. Louisiana.

Mr. McCartney, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

James W. McCartney:

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

This action involves the boundary between the states of Mississippi, Louisiana, and the private ownership of a body of land known as Stack Island or Island No. 94, patented by the United States as Mississippi land in 1881.

The identity and physical location of this island, which is the only island at issue in this case, can be traced from ancient maps beginning in 1826 through aerial photographs beginning in 1932 through hydrographic, U.S. hydrographic maps up to the present time.

So the island, according to the evidence before the trial court and as the trial court found, has been in existence at least since 1881 and can be identified today.

Now there is no substantial dispute with respect to the applicable boundary law.

This Court has many times said, even in controversies between Louisiana and Mississippi, that the thalweg, that's corrupted in Louisiana and Mississippi to thalweg, of the Mississippi River forms the boundary between the states, and that boundary shifts with gradual shifts in the location.

If that's so, why is it that 1881 became the relevant date for the district court's inquiry?

Why shouldn't it have been where the thalweg was at the time when the state was admitted to the Union?

James W. McCartney:

1881 became the focal point of the controversy, Your Honor.

There was no controverting evidence with respect to the documentary evidence showing the island as early as 1826.

Well, was it--

James W. McCartney:

So that's why it became the center of the trial court's fact findings.

--Was it... and you contend that that's the correct date to focus upon?

James W. McCartney:

No, the correct date according to the rules of this Court would be the date the existence of the island if it were present at the date the state was admitted to the Union or at the date it was formed.

Is that what you argued in the trial court?

James W. McCartney:

Yes.

Your Honor, in the trial court we offered all of this evidence and suggested--

I know you offered it all, but was your theory in the trial court that the date of admission to the Union was the critical date, and that you tried to find out from the best evidence available what the situation was at that point?

James W. McCartney:

--The theory in the trial court focused on the 1881 because of the controversy, but the evidence in the trial court and the finding of the trial court, the ultimate finding is susceptible of the interpretation that the applicable state entry date can be under the evidence of this case the controlling date.

But no, the principal focus of the argument in the trial court was the controversy in 1881 forward.

Now, the second point relating to the boundary issue is the doctrine of acquiescence, also a fact-intensive doctrine.

The trial court found after a review of the conflicting evidence of the experts that the thalweg lay on the west side of the island, and thus under the thalweg rule the island was Mississippi property.

The trial court also found based on extensive evidence that if the trial court were wrong in that finding that nevertheless the land were Mississippi land because of the doctrine of acquiescence.

That is of course long assertion of dominion, control, and jurisdiction.

So we had two basic ultimate fact findings.

We had innumerable subsidiary fact findings.

We then come to one of the two central points in this case, and that is the Fifth Circuit's exceeding the constraints of Rule 52 and according deference to the trial court's findings of fact.

Mr. McCartney, would you clarify a couple of things for me with respect to what the Fifth Circuit did?