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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Louisiana, 470 U.S. 93 (1985)

United States v. Louisiana

(Alabama and Mississippi Boundary Case)

No. 9, Orig.


This case involves the issue whether Mississippi Sound, a 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 submerged under the Sound. Following extended proceedings, the Special Master filed a Report in which he concluded, inter alia, that the whole of Mississippi Sound qualifies as a historic bay under the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone (Convention), and thus constitutes inland waters. Accordingly, he recommended that a decree be entered in favor of Alabama and Mississippi. The United States filed exceptions.

Held: On the record, the Special Master correctly determined that the whole of Mississippi Sound is a historic bay, and that its waters therefore are inland waters. Pp. 470 U. S. 101-115.

(a) While the term "historic bay" is not defined in the Convention, this Court has stated that a historic bay is a bay "over which a coastal nation has traditionally asserted and maintained dominion with the acquiescence of foreign nations." United States v. California, 381 U. S. 139, 381 U. S. 172. The facts in this case establish that the United States effectively has exercised sovereignty over Mississippi Sound as inland waters from the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 until 1971, and has done so without protest by foreign nations. Pp. 470 U. S. 101-111.

(b) Since historic title to Mississippi Sound as inland waters had ripened prior to the United States' disclaimer of the inland-waters status of the Sound in 1971, that disclaimer was insufficient to divest the States of their entitlement to the submerged lands under the Sound. And although the record does not contain evidence of acts of exclusion from the Sound of foreign navigation in innocent passage, such evidence is not invariably essential to a valid claim of historic inland water status. Pp. 470 U. S. 111-115.

Exception of United States to Special Master's recommended ruling that the whole of Mississippi Sound constitutes historic inland waters overruled, and Special Master's Report to that extent confirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except MARSHALL, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 470 U. S. 94

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