United States v. Alaska

PETITIONER:United States
LOCATION:Mississippi Tax Commission, Alcohol and Beverage Commission

DOCKET NO.: 73-1888
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 422 US 184 (1975)
ARGUED: Apr 16, 1975
DECIDED: Jun 23, 1975

A. Raymond Randolph, Jr. – for petitioner
Charles K. Cranston – for respondent
Thomas M. Phillips – for respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Alaska

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – April 16, 1975 in United States v. Alaska

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – June 23, 1975 in United States v. Alaska

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in No. 73-1888, United States against Alaska will be announced by Mr. Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

Well, this case comes to us on certiorari from the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The issue here is whether the lower portion of the various substantial body of water known as “Cook Inlet” on the Southern Coast of the State of Alaska constitutes the high seas or what is known as a “historic bay” subject to the jurisdiction of the State.

In more practical terms, the issue is whether the State of Alaska on the one hand or the United States on the other presently has the right to offer acres of land submerged in the lower inlet for oil and gas leases.

In 1967, Alaska offered some acreage for this purpose.

The United States contending that the lower inlet constituted the high seas brought suit to quiet title in federal court in the District of Alaska.

The State defended on the ground that the inlet was a historic bay and thus was subject to state sovereignty.

Alaska prevailed in the District Court and the Ninth Circuit affirmed.

We granted certiorari because of the importance of the litigation.

In an opinion filed today, we reverse the Court of Appeals and hold that the proof was insufficient to establish lower Cook Inlet as a historic bay.

We review in turn the evidence of sovereignty exercise during the Russian period, the territorial period prior to the time Alaska became a state and the period since statehood.

We conclude that neither Russia’s exercise of authority nor our Federal Government’s enforcement of fishing and wild life regulations or Alaska’s enforcement of fishing regulations was sufficient for this purpose.

And we review in particular, the factor of acquiescence by foreign nations and also the significance of Alaska’s arrest of two Japanese fishing vessels in the Shelikof Strait in 1962 and the Japanese reaction to that incident.

I’m authorized to say Mr. Justice Stewart and Mr. Justice Rehnquist have filed a joint statement to the effect that in their view, the findings of fact made by the District Court and adopted by the Court of Appeals were not clearly erroneous and therefore, they would affirm the judgment.

Mr. Justice Douglas took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Blackmun.