ArtIII.S2.C1.18.8 Land Grants by Different States

Article III, Section 2, Clause 1:

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;—to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls;—to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;—to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;—to Controversies between two or more States;—between a State and Citizens of another State,—between Citizens of different States,—between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

The Constitution allows federal courts to exercise jurisdiction over controversies “between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States.” 1 The provision has its roots in the Articles of Confederation. The Articles of Confederation did not create an independent federal judiciary, but provided that Congress would be “the last resort on appeal” in “controversies concerning the private right of soil claimed under different grants of two or more states” and could appoint commissioners or judges to constitute a court to resolve such disputes.2 An initial proposal from the Constitutional Convention’s Committee of Detail would have adopted a similar approach and granted the Senate the authority to resolve certain disputes, including “Controversies concerning Lands claimed under different Grants of two or more States.” 3 That proposal was defeated in the Convention.4 The delegates later added the current clause to the jurisdiction of the federal judiciary without reported debate.5

Congress has implemented the clause via legislation, vesting jurisdiction in the federal district courts.6 The provision has produced few Supreme Court cases, and none since the early Twentieth Century. The Court has explained that the constitutional provision and its implementing statute apply only to disputes between citizens of the same state.7 With respect to the reference to land grants “of different States,” the Court has held that the provision applies even if one of the states at issue was previously part of the other.8

U.S. Const. art III, § 2, cl. 1. back
Articles of Confederation, art. IX. back
2 Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 162–63, 171, 184–85 (Max Farrand ed., 1911). back
Id. at 400–01. back
Id. at 431–32. back
28 U.S.C. § 1354. Earlier versions of the statute vested jurisdiction in the now-defunct federal circuit courts. See U.S. v. Sayward, 160 U.S. 493 (1895). back
Stevenson v. Fain, 195 U.S. 165 (1904). Disputes between citizens of different states may instead fall within the federal courts’ diversity jurisdiction. See ArtIII.S2.C1.18.1 Overview of Diversity Jurisdiction. back
Town of Pawlet v. Clark, 13 U.S. 292 (1815); Colson v. Lewis, 15 U.S. 377 (1817). back