United States v. Gardner
107 F.3d 1314 (9th Cir. 1997)
Historically, when the US
acquired new territory (like the acquisition of Nevada from Mexico), the
general process was that all of the land was considered the property of
the Federal government, and they would divvy it up and sell most of it off
to private individuals, and give the rest to the State.
This land sale included most
of the land acquired early in US history (like the Louisiana Purchase),
but as time went on, the Federal government retained more and more of the
land for military bases, national forests etc.
For example, over 80% of
the land in Nevada has been retained by the Federal government.
Gardner owned a cattle ranch
in Nevada next to a National Forest. He had a permit that allowed his
cattle to graze in the Forest.
There was a forest fire that
burned the land Gardner's cows were grazing on. The US Forest Service
reseeded the area, and closed it to grazing for two years in order to
allow the land to recover.
Gardner disobeyed the order
and sent his cattle in. The US Forest Service fined Gardner for
trespassing. Gardner refused to pay the fine and the US Forest Service
Gardner argued that the
Federal government didn't have title to the land, and so he couldn't be
convicted of trespassing.
Gardner argued that when
the US acquired the land from Mexico, it was only to be held in trust
for the creation of future States, the Federal government didn't have
the right to retain it for its own purposes, they were required to sell
it off to private individuals.
The Trial Court upheld the
fine. Gardner appealed.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
Gardner had argued that the
decision in Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan (44 U.S. (3 How.) 212 (1845)), meant that the US only held land
in trust, but the Appellate Court distinguished that decision by saying
that that only applied to land acquired from the 13 original States
(mostly Virginia and Georgia), and it did not apply to land acquired by
the US later.
In those cases, the Federal
government wasn't the original owner of the land, it was owned by the
States. As part of the agreement to give the land to the Federal
government, the Federal government agreed to hold it in trust.
In this case, the Federal
government directly acquired Nevada from Mexico, so they didn't have to
abide by the same agreement they made in Pollard.
The Court found that under
the Property Clause (Article
IV, §3, cl. 2) the Federal government has the authority to
administer Federal lands anyway they choose, including the establishment
of national forests and stopping Gardner's cattle from grazing there.
Gardner argued that the Equal
Footing Doctrine meant that the
Federal government was required to give Nevada the same rights as they
gave other States, but the Court found that only applied to political
sovereignty, not to economic or physical characteristics.
Gardner's argument was that
the land in the eastern US was mostly owned by the States or private
landholders. Therefore it wasn't fair that most of the land in the
western US was mostly owned by the Federal government.