Open main menu

Virginia v. Tennessee

Virginia v. Tennessee, 148 U.S. 503 (1893), was a suit brought before the Supreme Court of the United States which sought to settle two questions: (1) What is the correct boundary between the two states and, if the boundary was inaccurately set, can the state ask the court to change it? (2) Does an agreement setting the boundary between two states require approval of Congress under the Compact Clause of the Constitution of the United States?

Virginia v. Tennessee
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Argued March 8–9, 1893
Decided April 3, 1893
Full case nameCommonwealth of Virginia v. State of Tennessee
Citations148 U.S. 503 (more)
13 S. Ct. 728; 37 L. Ed. 537; 1893 U.S. LEXIS 2248
The border as set forth in the survey of 1803 is the border between the two states.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Melville Fuller
Associate Justices
Stephen J. Field · John M. Harlan
Horace Gray · Samuel Blatchford
David J. Brewer · Henry B. Brown
George Shiras Jr. · Howell E. Jackson
Case opinion
MajorityField, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
U.S. Const. Art. I, § 10, cl. 3

When two states have a controversy between each other, the case is filed for original jurisdiction with the United States Supreme Court. This is one of the very limited circumstances where the court acts as original jurisdiction (i.e. a trial court) although, as the suit was at equity rather than law, no jury was impaneled (if either side had even wanted one in the first place). In all other cases, the court acts as the highest level appellate court in the United States.

The court decided that if a prior agreement between the two states set the boundary, both states ratify that agreement, and subsequently one state discovers that the boundary was wrong (e.g. the other state received a larger share of territory than originally planned), in the absence of the other state agreeing to change it, the original agreement stands.

In this particular instance, the Court rejected Virginia's contention that the intent of the original "charters of the English sovereigns" should take precedent over the 1803 compromise which sought to address the situation initially and which was agreed upon by both states.

As to what represents a compact requiring approval from Congress, it is those types of agreements that would, in some fashion, increase the power of a state. If a state, for example, wanted to send an exhibit to a World's Fair in another state, it would not have to have approval of Congress to contract to use a canal owned by another state that its exhibit or its people had to pass through along the way.

Where a compact or agreement between two states does require congressional approval, such approval may be implied, such as if a state sends information to Congress about an agreement, and Congress accepts and records the details. Approval may be requested in advance, or, for a type of compact where the details could not be known before the compact was ratified, after the compact is created.

The court decided that because the states informed Congress of the original survey that both states hired people to carefully establish, and subsequently enacted as legislation by the two states, the agreement was implicitly approved by Congress, and the border between the two states was that which was set forth in the survey.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit