United States v. Louisiana

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Kingsley Books, Inc.

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1957-1958)

CITATION: 354 US 515 (1957)
ARGUED: Apr 08, 1957
DECIDED: Jun 24, 1957

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 08, 1957 (Part 1) in United States v. Louisiana

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 08, 1957 (Part 2) in United States v. Louisiana

W. Scott Wilkinson:

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

The Attorney General of Louisiana made an opening statement to outline briefly the points on which Louisiana relies in this case, leaving to me the matter of making the main argument and answering the questions that the Court may have propound in that connection.

I would like to take up where the United States Attorney General left off which will permit me more or less to go chronologically into the argument of the case.

That is, I would like to start on the proposition that, at the time of or prior to the time that Louisiana entered into the Union, its boundaries were three leagues or more from its coast in the Gulf of Mexico.

In that connection, let me comment, first, upon the letter of the Secretary of State which the Solicitor General says is conclusive on the Court.

To me, that is an unheard of proposition that a plaintiff from the case may bring his suit before Court to ask a Court to adjudicate on the location of certain boundaries.

Then, after the answer of the defendant is filed, to write to another official of the Government and ask that official of the Government to state where those boundaries are, and to present that reply to this Court and to say that that decides the case.

It isn't necessary to have this Court if that is so.

That is not so.

Hugo L. Black:

Well, do you mean if we accepted what he said that would decide the case against him?

W. Scott Wilkinson:

If Mr. -- I wouldn't say even that because I'm going into Mr. Dulles' letter in just a minute to read a part of it that the Solicitor General did not read to the Court.

I know he didn't leave that out intentionally because neither of us have time to go into everything we might choose to say to Your Honors.

It would take too much time to do that.

First, I do want to say this.

Opposing counsel referred to the political branches of the Government.

He continued to refer to the political branches of the Government.

There's not just one, they are two the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch.

There's never been a treaty entered into by the United States.

It was not negotiated by the Executive Department and concurred in by a two-thirds vote of the Senate.

Those are the political branches of the Government, and this case has specifically said so that our foreign relations -- in the (Inaudible) case that's quoted in our brief that the foreign relations of this nation are vested in the political departments of the Government - the Legislative and the Executive.

And, it would be, indeed, a noble situation if either one of these two had the sole right to interpret the meaning of a treaty or a meaning of an Act of Congress.

That is a judicial matter for this Court to determine.

It is true that there have been cases where the position of the United States and International Affairs has been declared to be thus and so by the Executive Department of the Government, such as where the boundary between the United States and Spain may have been at a certain time, and the Court has refused to go behind that statement and on this theory.

That for the -- for the Executive Department of the Government to say to a foreign nation “our boundary is here,” and then this Court to come and say that it isn't there, there could be no stability in our Government.

But, in matters relating between the United States and a state, and this Court so said that in an early case of United States versus Texas which we cite in our brief here, in matters of determining boundaries as between the United States and a state or as between the states of the Union, those are matters to be determined by the judiciary.

And, to close this part of my argument as quickly as I may, I would simply like to read this short statement made by this Court in the case of In re Cooper, reported on 143 US 472, also cited in our brief.

Without the clear -- this is what this Court said.

“Without the clear authority of the law of commerce, the Executive can never, by determining a so-called political question or by construing an Act of Congress or a treaty, conclude the rights of persons or property under the protection of the Constitution and laws of the United States in a determination of these rights.”

And, that is exactly the situation here.

You're asked to determine the rights of the State of Louisiana on the say so of the Executive Department of the Government and without reference to what Congress may have said.