United States v. Louisiana (363 U.S. 1)/Concurrence Frankfurter

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United States Supreme Court

363 U.S. 1


No. 10, Original.  Argued: October 12-15, 1959. --- Decided: May 31, 1960.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, whom Mr. Justice BRENNAN, Mr. Justice WHITTAKER and Mr. Justice STEWART join, concurring. [*]

Considering the variety of views evoked by these cases, I deem it appropriate to add a few words to the two Court opinions which I have joined.

The one thing which I take to be incontestable is that Congress did not, by the Submerged Lands Act of 1953, make an outright grant to any of the Gulf States in excess of three miles. Congress only granted to each of these States the opportunity to establish at law that it possessed a boundary in excess of three miles, either by virtue of possession of such a boundary at the time of its admission to the Union or by virtue of congressional 'approval' of such a boundary prior to the enactment of the Submerged Lands Act. A Gulf State that can successfully establish such a judicially ascertainable fact is entitled to a grant of the submerged lands beyond three miles to a distance of the lesser of three leagues or of the boundary so established. Congress, in the Submerged Lands Act itself, did not determine the existence of a boundary for any State beyond three miles, either explicitly or by implied approval of a claim presented to it in the course of the legislative process. Nor of course did Congress vest this Court with determination of a claim based on 'equity' in the layman's loose sense of the term, for it could not. Congress may indulge in largess based on considerations of policy; Congress cannot ask this Court to exercise benevolence on its behalf.

There is no foundation in the Act of 1953 or its legislative history for the view that particularized, express approval of a State's boundary claim by a prior Congress is required to make a defined boundary the measure of the grant. To the contrary, in the case of Florida, authoritative legislative history makes it perfectly clear that the very question deliberately preserved by the Act of 1953 was whether congressional approval of the new Florida Constitution in the Reconstruction legislation of 1867 1868, by which Florida was restored to full participation in the Union, amounted to an approval of the three-league boundary which that constitution explicitly set forth. [1] I sustain Florida's claim because I find that its boundary was so approved.

The proper construction of the effect of congressional 'approval' of the Florida Reconstruction constitution presents problems quite different from those stirred by the constitutional controversy and its resulting problems that are compendiously known as Reconstruction. See Lincoln's last public address, April 11, 1865. 8 Basler, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, 399. The readjustment of the relationship between the States that had remained in the Union and those that had seceded presented major issues not only for the political branches of the Government, the President and the Congress, but also for this Court. Insofar as the perplexing and recalcitrant problems of Reconstruction involved legal solutions, the evolution of constitutional doctrine was an indispensable element in the process of healing the wounds of the sanguinary conflict. It was in aid of that process that this Court formulated the doctrine expressed in the famous sentence in State of Texas v. White: 'The Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible States.' 7 Wall. 700, 725, 19 L.Ed. 277.

This theory served as a fruitful means for dealing with the problems for which it was devised. It is unrelated to the question now before us, namely, whether, when it 'approved' as an entirety the Florida Constitution as a condition to the recognition of that State's full membership in the Union, Congress exercised its undoubted power to approve the seaward boundary claim contained within it. It is in essence the contention of the United States that approval could only have been manifested explicitly, that Congress must have ratified the boundary provision in so many words, either expressly in the Reconstruction Acts, or by an authoritative gloss upon them in a committee report or a speech on the floor by a responsible chairman. But in these matters we are dealing with great acts of State, not with fine writing in an insurance policy. Florida was directed to submit a new constitution for congressional approval as a prerequisite for the exercise of her full rights in the Union of States and the resumption of her responsibilities. In this context it would attribute deceptive subtlety to the Congresses of 1867-1868 to hold that it is necessary to find a formal, explicit statement by them, whether in statutory text or history, that the boundary claim, as submitted in Florida's new constitution, was duly considered and sanctioned, in order to find 'approval' of that claim.


^*  NOTE: This opinion applies also to United States v. Florida et al., post, p. 121. (363 U.S. 129, 80 S.Ct. 1030.)

^1  For example, Senator Holland, the Senator from Florida, stated, in response to questioning on the precise issue:

"I have never contended in this debate, or anywhere else, for a 3-league limitation in the case of my State, except as fixed by its constitution and except as approved, I believe, by the Congress.

"If the Senator does not think we have a case which we can establish in court, why is he concerned about it? I am perfectly willing to rely upon that 3-league limit on our Gulf Coast, as stated in the Florida Constitution and as approved by the Congress, so I believe, in 1868.

"So it is very difficult for me to understand why those who oppose the pending joint resolution feel that there is something to fear, if they feel we have no firm case for that boundary. We do not spell out that firm case in the pending measure. In this measure we simply claim the right ... to show—if it be a fact—that we have a greater border than 3 miles, as we claim, in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Likewise we claim—and to come under this measure we would have to establish that claim—that that 3-league border was not only provided in our constitution, and is still there, but that it was approved when our constitution was approved by act of Congress.

"So if the Senator thinks that any link in that chain is unsafe and insecure, that should make him believe that Florida will not have the claimed 3-league boundary ....

"I am beginning to believe that my friends are fairly well con- vinced of the strength of the action taken by Congress, and are afraid that Florida does have a legal and a supportable claim to the 3-league boundary, because if the case were as weak as some Senators seem to believe it is, why would they be disturbed by the general wording of the pending joint resolution, which simply gives Florida its day in court?"

99 Cong. Rec. 2923.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).