United States v. Louisiana (Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case)

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:Louisiana (Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case)
LOCATION:Elstad’s Residence

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)

CITATION: 470 US 93 (1985)
ARGUED: Nov 26, 1984
DECIDED: Feb 26, 1985

Benjamin Cohen – on behalf of Alabama
Jim R. Bruce – on behalf of Mississippi
Louis F. Claiborne – on behalf of the Plaintiff

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Louisiana (Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case)

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 26, 1984 in United States v. Louisiana (Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case)

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – February 26, 1985 in United States v. Louisiana (Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case)

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and the opinion of the Court in No. 9 original, the United States against Louisiana will be announced by Justice Blackmun.

Harry A. Blackmun:

This case is another one that comes to us under our original jurisdiction.

Despite the title, the United States against Louisiana it is i think more appropriately called the Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case.

It is just another chapter in the litigation that has to do with the ownership of lands under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Specifically this case presents the issue whether the Mississippi Sound, the body of water immediately south of the mainland of Alabama and Mississippi, consists of inland waters so as to establish in those states rather than in the United States, ownership of the lands under the Sound.

The Special Master has filed a report in the report which he concluded that the whole of the Sound qualifies as what is called a “historic bay” under the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone and thus constitutes inland waters.

The United States and Alabama and Mississippi all filed exceptions to that report.

In an opinion filed with the Clerk today, we overrule the exception of the United States and confirmed the Master’s report and find no need to reach the exceptions that were filed by the two States.

We conclude that on the record the Master correctly determined that the whole of Mississipi Sound is a historic bay.

We feel that the facts in the case established that the United States effectively has exercised sovereignity over the Sound as inland waters from the time the Louisiana Purchase in the 1803 until 1971 and has done so without protest by any foreign nation.

This historic title to the Sound as inland waters ripened prior to the disclaimer of inland water status by the United States in 1971.

And that disclaimer was insufficient to divest the States of their entitlement of their submerge lands.

Although the record does not contain evidence of actual acts of exclusion from the Sound of foreign navigation and innocent passage.

Such evidences not invariably essential to a valid claim of historic inland water status.

Mr. Justice Marshall took no part in the considerational or decision of this case but otherwise the judgment is unanimous.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Justice Blackmun.