Methods of Disposing of Property

The Constitution is silent as to the methods of disposing of property of the United States. In United States v. Gratiot,303 in which the validity of a lease of lead mines on government lands was put in issue, the contention was advanced that “disposal is not letting or leasing,” and that Congress has no power “to give or authorize leases.” The Court sustained the leases, saying “the disposal must be left to the discretion of Congress.”304 Nearly a century later this power to dispose of public property was relied upon to uphold the generation and sale of electricity by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The reasoning of the Court ran thus: the potential electrical energy made available by the construction of a dam in the exercise of its constitutional powers is property which the United States is entitled to reduce to possession; to that end it may install the equipment necessary to generate such energy. In order to widen the market and make a more advantageous disposition of the product, it may construct transmission lines and may enter into a contract with a private company for the interchange of electric energy.305

Footnotes

303
39 U.S. (14 Pet.) 526 (1840). [Back to text]
304
39 U.S. at 533, 538. [Back to text]
305
Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U.S. 288, 335–40 (1936). See also Alabama Power Co. v. Ickes, 302 U.S. 464 (1938). [Back to text]