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U.S. Supreme Court

Sanitary District of Chicago v. United States, 266 U.S. 405 (1925)

Sanitary District of Chicago v. United States

No. 161

Argued December 8, 9, 1924

Decided January 5, 1925

266 U.S. 405


1. A suit to enjoin an agency of the State Illinois from continuing diversions of water from Lake Michigan which lower that lake and threaten the like effect upon other lakes and connecting waters of the Great Lake System, including the St.Lawrence, is maintainable by the United States not only to remove obstruction to interstate and foreign commerce, but also to carry out treaty obligations to a foreign power. (Treaty of January 11, 1909, with Great Britain, 36 Stat. 2448.) P. 266 U. S. 425.

2. Semble that such a suit might also stand upon an ultimate sovereign interest in the Lakes. Id.

3. The suit may be brought by the Attorney General, in virtue of his office, and it need not be authorized by a statute. P. 266 U. S. 426.

4. The power of the United States to remove obstructions to interstate and foreign commerce is superior to that of the states to provide for the welfare or necessities of their inhabitants. Id.

5. Touching interstate and foreign commerce, insofar as the states may act, Congress can override what they have done; but, in matters of imminent and direct national importance, they may not act at all, even where Congress has been silent. Id. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 266 U. S. 406

6. Irrespective of any international compact, a state cannot authorize diversions of water from the Great Lakes which will affect their level without the consent of Congress. P. 266 U. S. 426.

7. Even if it were possible for the United States to estop itself by grant or contract from exercising its power in matters of national and international concern, its act must be strictly construed against such a result. P. 266 U. S. 427.

8. The Act of March 2, 1827, granting land to Illinois to open a canal uniting the waters of the Illinois River with those of Lake Michigan vested no irrevocable discretion in the state with regard to the amount of water to be withdrawn from the Lake. Id.

9. The withdrawal of water in this case, except insofar as it may be authorized by the Secretary of War, is prohibited by the Act of March 3, 1899, c. 425, § 10, 30 Stat 1151, as involving a change in the condition of the Lakes and the Chicago River (admitted to be navigable) and an obstruction to their navigable capacity. P. 266 U. S. 428.

10. Revocable licenses granted by the Secretary of War under the above Act of 1899, concerning the appellant's canal and the quantity of water to be taken from Lake Michigan -- considered and held no justification for the excessive diversions here complained of by the government. P. 266 U. S. 429.

11. Refusal of the Secretary of War to license greater withdrawals of water from Lake Michigan by the appellant through its canal for the sanitation of Chicago did not infringe any rights of that city arising from its investment in the canal property, or of states bordering on the Mississippi based on their interest in increasing the artificial flow; nor were those states or the city entitled to be heard before the license was refused. P. 266 U. S. 431.


Appeal from a decree of the district court enjoining the appellant from diverting water from Lake Michigan in excess of 250,000 cubic feet per minute, the amount authorized by the Secretary of War. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 266 U. S. 423

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