460 U. S. 300

U.S. Supreme Court

North Dakota v. United States, 460 U.S. 300 (1983)

North Dakota v. United States

No. 81-773

Argued November 2, 1982

Decided March 7, 1983

460 U.S. 300


The federal Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to acquire easements over wetland areas suitable for migratory waterfowl breeding and nesting grounds. Section 3 of the Wetlands Act of 1961 (Loan Act) provides that no land suitable for waterfowl habitats can be acquired with money from the fund established for such acquisitions unless the acquisition "has been approved" by the Governor or an appropriate agency of the State in which the land is located. Between 1961 and 1977, successive Governors of North Dakota consented to the acquisition of easements covering approximately 1.6 million acres of wetlands in that State. By 1977, the United States had obtained easements covering about half of this acreage. In the 1970's, however, cooperation between North Dakota and the United States began to break down, and in 1977, North Dakota enacted statutes restricting the United States' ability to acquire easements over wetlands. These statutes set out certain conditions that must be met "prior to final approval" of the acquisition of the easements, permitted a landowner to drain any after-expanded wetland in excess of the legal description in the easement, and limited all easements to a maximum term of 99 years. The United States brought suit in Federal District Court, seeking a declaratory judgment that, inter alia, the 1977 North Dakota statutes were hostile to federal law and could not be applied, and any easement acquired in violation of such statutes would nevertheless be valid. The District Court granted summary judgment for the United States, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.


1. The consent required by § 3 of the Loan Act cannot be revoked at the will of an incumbent Governor. To hold otherwise would be inconsistent with the Loan Act's purpose of facilitating the acquisition of wetlands. Here, the acquisition in question clearly "has been approved" by North Dakota's Governors as § 3's language provides. Nothing in the statute authorizes the withdrawal of approval previously given. Nor does § 3's legislative history suggest that Congress intended to permit Governors to revoke their consent. Pp. 312-316.

2. Since § 3 of the Loan Act does not permit North Dakota to revoke its consent outright, the State may not revoke its consent based on noncompliance clubjuris

Page 460 U. S. 301

with the conditions set forth in the 1977 legislation. And to the extent that such legislation authorizes landowners to drain after-expanded wetlands contrary to the terms of their easement agreements, it is hostile to federal interests, and may not be applied. For the same reason, the statute limiting easements to a maximum term of 99 years may not be applied to wetlands acquired by the United States pursuant to previously given consents. Pp. 460 U. S. 316-320.

650 F.2d 911, affirmed.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 460 U. S. 321.