United States v. Louisiana (Louisiana Boundary Case)

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: Louisiana (Louisiana Boundary Case)
LOCATION: Christian County, Kentucky

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1971-1972)

CITATION: 404 US 388 (1971)
ARGUED: Dec 14, 1971
DECIDED: Dec 20, 1971

Erwin N. Griswold - on behalf of petitioner
Victor A. Sachse - on behalf of respondent

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Louisiana (Louisiana Boundary Case)

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 14, 1971 in United States v. Louisiana (Louisiana Boundary Case)

Warren E. Burger:

Set of nine, United States of America against the State of Louisiana.

Mr. Solicitor General.

Erwin N. Griswold:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is a motion in the pending case of United States against Louisiana.

The motion seeks the release of certain funds, which had been impounded under an agreement entered into between the United States and Louisiana in 1956.

The underlying issue here has been squarely decided by the Court at least three times over a period of 21 years.

In a sense, the controversy begins nearly 25 years ago with the filing of the suit by the United States against California which was decided in 332 US 19 in an opinion by Mr. Justice Black.

This Court there held that California had no ownership right in the land under the seas beyond low water mark.

Although the decision was applicable to California only, it was based on reasoning which was equally relevant to all other states boarding on either of the oceans.

And thereafter the United States brought a suit against Louisiana which was decided in 1950, 21 years ago in 339 US and opinion by Mr. Justice Douglas.

In that case the Court held that the United States was entitled to a decree adjudging and declaring its paramount rights in the land under the Gulf of Mexico, beyond the low water mark on the coast of Louisiana.

And later in that year, this Court entered a decree to this effect and this is in 340 US at page 899 and the decree reads “The United States is now and has been at all times pertinent hereto possessed a paramount rights in and hold dominion and power over the lands, minnows and other things under lying the Gulf of Mexico, lying seaward of the ordinary low water mark on the coast of Louisiana and outside of the inland waters.

And that is the first time when this Court decided the underlying issue.

That decree has become as final as any decree of this Court can be.

There are always equitable doctrines like bills of review and cases can be overruled, but the decree is a decree and is outstanding.

In 1953, Congress passed the Submerged Lands Act.

This was a reaction, a reappraisal of this Court's decision in the California and Louisiana case and by this statute Congress could claim to all the sea bound states, the land under the sea adjacent to the states for three miles from the coastline.

It also provided that the states might have more than three miles up to nine miles where this had been recognized by legislation prior to this Court's decisions.

In 1956, oil leasing had become active in the Gulf of Mexico, and there were controversies between the United States and Louisiana, and on June 11, 1956 this Court entered a decree enjoining Louisiana and the United States from leasing or beginning the drilling of new wells in the disputed tidelands area, pending further order of this Court unless by agreement of the parties hereto.

This was the background of the agreement entered into later in 1956, the full text of which it is set out as appendix A to the motion of the United States on page 29 of that motion and the funds involved here have been impounded pursuant to that decree.

Now as I have indicated, the Submerged Land Act indicated the possibility that Gulf States might have nine miles rather than three miles and the United States filed a bill in equity against all five of the gulf states which I believe is the suit, which is now still pending here, and this was decided by the Court in 1960, United States against Louisiana.

The Court determined that Texas and Florida were entitled to nine miles from their coast lines under the Submerged Land Act, but it determined that and I quote “Louisiana is entitled to submerged land rights to a distance of no greater than three geographical miles from the coastlines wherever those lines may ultimately be shown to be.”

And a few months later this Court entered its final decree in that second case of United States against Louisiana and that decree is reported in 364 at US 502 and the irrelevant portion reads, “as against the respective defendant states, the United States is entitled to all the lands, minerals and other natural resources underlying the Gulf of Mexico more than three geographic miles seaward from the coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama and that is the second time that this Court decided the issue which underlies the motion here.

Following that decision in 1965 on motion of the United States, the Court entered a supplemental decree providing for the distribution of some of the funds which have been impounded under the agreement entered into between Louisiana and the United States in 1956 and this supplemental decree is recorded in 382 US page 288.

I am advised that under it, about a $191 million was distributed to the United States and somewhat over 34 million dollars were distributed to Louisiana and that decree I believe is a clear precedent for the present motion.

I have here a map too small I am afraid to be seen from the bench and I will hand to the clerk and ask that if he pass to the members of the Court.

It is a map which was used and connection with the argument three years ago which led to the third decision in this case.

On it you will find a green area at the bottom and that is the area which was covered by the order in 388 -- in 382 US.

Just to the North of it, you see a very faint line, that is the so-called coast guard line that Louisiana was claiming, and the green area is three miles outside the coastguard line.

Close to the shoreline, you see a pink area and a red area.