New Jersey v. New York

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New Jersey v. New York
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued January 12, 1998
Decided May 26, 1998
Full case nameState of New Jersey v. State of New York
Citations523 U.S. 767 (more)
118 S. Ct. 1726; 140 L. Ed. 2d 993; 1998 U.S. LEXIS 3405; 66 U.S.L.W. 4389; 98 Daily Journal DAR 5406; 1998 Colo. J. C.A.R. 2596; 11 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 563
New Jersey has sovereign authority over the filled land added to the original Island. New Jersey's exception to that portion of the Special Master's report concerning the Court's authority to adjust the original boundary line between the two States is sustained. The other exceptions of New Jersey and New York are overruled.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William Rehnquist
Associate Justices
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Antonin Scalia · Anthony Kennedy
David Souter · Clarence Thomas
Ruth Bader Ginsburg · Stephen Breyer
Case opinions
MajoritySouter, joined by Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer
ConcurrenceBreyer, joined by Ginsburg
DissentScalia, joined by Thomas
Laws applied
1834 Compact between New York and New Jersey

New Jersey v. New York, 523 U.S. 767 (1998), was a United States Supreme Court case in which it was determined that roughly 90% of Ellis Island was part of New Jersey rather than New York.


An interstate compact had been signed between New York and New Jersey in 1834, prior to Ellis Island becoming a major immigration center. This compact granted New York the rights to all islands in the water channel separating the two states including both Ellis Island and Liberty Island, but granting New Jersey the rights to half of the water channel. This agreement was fashioned in order to allow New Jersey to build docks on the riverfront, while allowing New York to control islands that it already considered integral parts of its territory. This led to places such as Ellis Island located on the New Jersey side of the river, but belonging to New York.[1]

Between the 1890s and 1934, Ellis Island was expanded through land reclamation and soon became a major center for immigrants coming from Europe to the New World. This land was added by the federal government and considered part of New York for decades before New Jersey brought its lawsuit. Since the land added by the federal government was not expressly granted to New York by the interstate compact, and was placed in water that had been expressly granted to New Jersey, the majority ruled that this "new" land (decades old by this time) must belong to New Jersey. The dissent used historical reasons and "common-sense inference" as their basis for supporting New York's claim.[1]


Border between New Jersey and New York shown as a dotted line.

According to the court decision, all land originally given to New York by the compact (the original, natural Ellis Island) remains under the jurisdiction of New York, but any and all land reclaimed from the waters after that point is under the jurisdiction of New Jersey.[2] The island covers a land area of 27.5 acres (11.1 ha).

The two states jointly negotiated a post-trial settlement to decide exactly where and how to draw the lines in accordance with the Supreme Court decision. The 2.74-acre (1.11 ha) original island and other areas negotiated in that post-trial settlement, totaling 3.3 acres (1.3 ha), to this day remains part of New York that is a landlocked enclave within New Jersey.[3] The case is possibly the first to use GIS in determining a Supreme Court decision.[4]

While the court decision has changed the state territorial sovereignty of most parts of the island, the actual current landowner (holder of the title of Ellis Island) is the federal government. Very few activities on the island were directly affected by the transfer of sovereignty, but the decision did affect some instances of sales taxes, and may well play an influential role in shaping future developments and maintenance of the island.


  1. ^ a b Greenhouse, Linda (May 27, 1998). "THE ELLIS ISLAND VERDICT: THE RULING; High Court Gives New Jersey Most of Ellis Island". The New York Times. Retrieved July 15, 2016.
  2. ^ "New Jersey v. New York – 523 U.S. 767 (1998)". Justia. Retrieved 2012-08-02.
  3. ^ Richard G. Castagna; Lawrence L. Thornton; John M. Tyrawski. "GIS and Coastal Boundary Disputes: Where is Ellis Island?". ESRI. Retrieved 2013-11-17. The New York portion of Ellis Island is landlocked, enclaved within New Jersey's territory.
  4. ^ Cho, George (2005), Geographic Information Science: Mastering the Legal Issues, Wiley and Sons

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