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Veto of Bill Concerning Title to Offshore Lands.

August 01, 1946

To the House of Representatives:

I return herewith, without my signature, House Joint Resolution 225, entitled "A Joint Resolution to quiet the titles of the respective States, and others, to lands beneath tidewaters and lands beneath navigable waters within the boundaries of such States and to prevent further clouding of such titles."

The purpose of this measure is to renounce and disclaim all right, title, interest, claim or demand of the United States in "lands beneath tidewaters," as defined in the Joint Resolution, and in lands beneath all navigable waters within the boundaries of the respective States, and to the minerals in such lands. The phrase "lands beneath tidewaters" is defined so broadly as to include all lands, either submerged or reclaimed, situated under the ocean beyond the low water mark and extending out to a line three geographical miles distant from the coastline or to the boundary line of any State whose boundary, at the time of the admission of the State to the Union, extended oceanward beyond three geographical miles. Lands acquired by the United States from any State or its successors in interest, or through conveyance or condemnation, would be excluded from the operation of the measure. There would also be excluded the interest of the United States in that part of the continental shelf (lands under the ocean contiguous to and forming part of the land mass of our coasts) which lies more than three miles beyond the low water mark or the boundary of any particular State.

On May 29, 1945, at my direction, the then Attorney General filed a suit in the United States District Court at Los Angeles, in the name of the United States, to determine the rights in the land and minerals situated in the bed of the Pacific Ocean adjacent to the coast of California and within the three-mile limit above described. Thereafter, in order to secure a more expeditious determination of the matter, the present Attorney General brought suit in the Supreme Court of the United States. The case in the District Court was dismissed. I am advised by the Attorney General that the case will be heard in the Supreme Court and will probably be decided during the next term of the Court.

The Supreme Court's decision in the pending case will determine rights in lands lying beyond ordinary low water mark along the coast extending seaward for a distance of three miles. Contrary to widespread misunderstanding, the case does not involve any tidelands, which are lands covered and uncovered by the daily ebb and flow of the tides; nor does it involve any lands under bays, harbors, ports, lakes, rivers or other inland waters. Consequently the case does not constitute any threat to or cloud upon the titles of the several States to such lands, or the improvements thereon. When the Joint Resolution was being debated in the Senate, an amendment was offered which would have resulted in giving an outright acquittance to the respective States of all tidelands and all lands under bays, harbors, ports, lakes, rivers and other inland waters. Proponents of the present measure, however, defeated this Amendment. This clearly emphasized that the primary purpose of the legislation was to give to the States and their lessees any right, title or interest of the United States in the lands and minerals under the waters within the three-mile limit.

The ownership of the land and resources underlying this three-mile belt has been a subject of genuine controversy for a number of years. It should be resolved appropriately and promptly. The ownership of the vast quantity of oil in such areas presents a vital problem for the nation from the standpoint of national defense and conservation. If the United States owns these areas, they should not be given away. If the Supreme Court decides that the United States has no title to or interest in the lands, a quit-claim from the Congress is unnecessary.

The Attorney General advises me that the issue now before the Supreme Court has not been heretofore determined. It thus presents a legal question of great importance to the nation, and one which should be decided by the Court. The Congress is not an appropriate forum to determine the legal issue now before the Court. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court should not be interfered with while it is arriving at its decision in the pending case.

For the foregoing reasons I am constrained to withhold my approval of the Joint Resolution.


Harry S Truman, Veto of Bill Concerning Title to Offshore Lands. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/231968

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