North Dakota v. United States

RESPONDENT:United States
LOCATION:Central Bank of Nigeria Headquarters

DOCKET NO.: 81-773
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

CITATION: 460 US 300 (1983)
ARGUED: Nov 02, 1982
DECIDED: Mar 07, 1983

Barbara E. Etkind – on behalf of the Appellee
North Dakota – for waterfowl breeding, and the Government’s acquisition of North Dakota land has been given high priority
Robert O. Wefald – on behalf of the Appellant

Facts of the case


Media for North Dakota v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 02, 1982 in North Dakota v. United States

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 07, 1983 in North Dakota v. United States

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

The opinion for the Court in 81-773, North Dakota versus the United States will be announced by Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, this case which comes to us by way of appeal from the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit presents rather a refreshing subject matter because it concerns the wild fowl that fly our midwest flyways, that is ducks and geese.

The federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to acquire easements over wetland areas suitable for migratory waterfowl breeding and nesting grounds.

The Wetlands Act of 1961 provides that no land suitable for waterfowl habitats can be acquired with money from the fund established for such acquisitions unless the acquisition has been approved by the Governor or an appropriate state agency of the State where the land is located.

Between 1961 and 1977, successive governors of the State of North Dakota consented to the acquisition of easements covering approximately a million and half acres of wetlands in that State.

By 1977, the United States had obtained easements covering about half of this acreage.

In the 1970s, however, cooperation between North Dakota and the United States began to break down, and in 1977, the State enacted statutes restricting the ability of the United States to acquire easements over wetlands.

And these statutes sent out to certain conditions that must be met prior to final approval of the acquisition of easements.

They also permitted a landowner to drain any after-expanded wetland in excess of a legal description.

And finally, the statutes limited all easements to a maximum term of 99 years.

The United States brought suits, seeking a declaratory judgment that the 1977 North Dakota statutes were hostile to federal law and could not be applied, and that any easement acquired in violation of those statutes would nonetheless be valid.

The District Court granted summary judgment for the United States and the Court of Appeals affirmed, and North Dakota took an appeal here.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we hold that the consent required by the Wetlands Act cannot be revoked at the will of an incumbent Governor.

To hold otherwise would be inconsistent with the Loan Act’s purpose of facilitating the acquisition of wetlands.

The State furthermore may not revoke its consent based on noncompliance with the conditions set forth in the 1977 legislation.

To the extent that that legislation authorizes a landowner to drain after expanded wetlands contrary to the terms of an easement agreement, it is hostile to federal interests and may not be applied.

And finally, the statute limiting the easements to a maximum term of 99 years may not be applied to wetlands acquired by the United States pursuant to previously given consents.

And the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals is therefore affirmed to the extent we have indicated.

Justice O’Connor has filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, and has joined therein by Justice Rehnquist.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Thank you, Justice Blackmun.