United States v. Maine

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For the land claim filed by the federal government on behalf of the Passamaquoddy and Penobscot tribes, see Joint Tribal Council of the Passamaquoddy Tribe v. Morton.
United States v. Maine
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued November 26, 1984
Decided February 19, 1985
Full case name United States v. Maine, et al.
Citations 469 U.S. 504 (more)
105 S. Ct. 992; 83 L. Ed. 2d 998; 1985 U.S. LEXIS 47; 53 U.S.L.W. 4151
Prior history On Exception to Report of Special Master
Holding
Long Island is an extension of the North American mainland and surrounding waters may therefore be controlled by the states.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Blackmun, joined by unanimous court

United States v. Maine, 469 U.S. 504 (1985), also known as the Rhode Island and New York Boundary Case, was a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that the Long Island and Block Island Sounds in part constitute a juridical bay under Article 7(6), Long Island being an extension of the mainland and the southern headland of the bay, and (b) that the bay closed at the line drawn from Montauk Point at the eastern tip of Long Island to Watch Hill Point on the Rhode Island shore, the waters of the bay west of the closing line being internal state waters, and the waters of Block Island Sound east of that line being territorial waters and high seas.

The federal government and states couldn’t agree who controlled the Long Island and Block Island sounds. The states wanted control to regulate shipping and commerce on the sounds. The key to the case was if Long Island was, for legal purposes, an extension of the mainland or an island. If it were simply an extension of the mainland as the states argued, then under law the sounds are inland bays controlled by the states. If it were an island for legal purposes, then the sounds would be considered open waters under federal control.

In the end the court ruled in favor of the states. The Court came to this decision by determining that the East River, which separates Long Island from the mainland, was too shallow for safe ship passage until humans widened it. Therefore Long Island is not a natural island. Also, Long Island and the adjacent shore also share a common geological history.

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