Proceedings, Debates of the U.S. Congress
February 14, 2013
113th Congress, 1st Session
Issue: Vol. 159, No. 24 — Daily Edition
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Constitutional Authority Statement for H.R. 687
(House of Representatives - February 14, 2013)
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[Pages H547-H548] From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov] By Mr. GOSAR: H.R. 687. Congress has the power to enact this legislation pursuant to the following: Article IV of the Constitution provides the authority of Congress over federal property as a general matter. Article IV, Sec. 3 refers to the managerial authority over property owned by the Federal Government, and provides in relevant part: The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; . . . By virtue of this enumerated power, Congress has governing authority over the lands, territories, or other property of the United States--and with this authority Congress is vested with the power accredited to all owners in fee, the power to sell, lease, dispose, [[Page H548]] exchange, transfer, trade, mine, or simply preserve land. The appropriate acreage to be held under Federal dominance is not the subject of this bill. Turning to the power of Article IV, Sec. 3, the Supreme Court has described this enumerated grant as one ``without limitation'' Kleppe v. New Mexico, 426 U.S. 529, 542-543 (1976) (``And while the furthest reaches of the power granted by the Property Clause have not yet been definitively resolved, we have repeatedly observed that `[t]he power over the public land thus entrusted to Congress is without limitations' '' Citing United States v. San Francisco, 310 U.S. 29. The Court in Kleppe further explained that ``In short, Congress exercises the powers both of a proprietor and of a legislature over the public domain.'' Id. Like any ``propiretor'' Congress has the power to sell or exchange federal property. It is now generally accepted that the Federal Government may own and manage property in the manner and form mandated by Congress. United States v. Gratiot, 39 U.S. 526 (1840); Camfield v. United States, 167 U.S. 518 (1897). However, the wisdom of the Federal Government owning large tracts of land, particularly in the Western States, is subject to question on policy grounds, and some contend on Constitutional grounds based on the decision in Pollard's Lessee v. Hagan, 44 U.S. 212 (where the Court stated that ``a proper examination of this subject will show that the United States never held any municipal sovereignty, jurisdiction, or right of soil in and to the territory of which Alabama or any of the new States were formed, except for temporary purposes . . . .'' Historically, the early federal government transferred ownership of federal property to either private ownership or to state ownership in order to pay off the then crushing Revolutionary War debts and to assist with the development of infrastructure. These are still acceptable goals for federal property sale or transfer. The land exchange here is one that comports with good policy and constitutional strictures since by exchanging the land set forth in this bill, a large commercial grade copper mine will be able to proceed with the attendant economic benefits with which such a proposition inures (assuming compliance with other requirements set forth in the bill), but the Federal Government also gains equally valuable land that has significance for other purposes. Article 1, Sec. 8, Cl. 17 addresses property ceded by a state and conveys exclusive regulatory federal jurisdiction over these federal properties and enclaves. Section 8, Cl, 17 may also provide some guidance here to the extent it grants Congress the power to ``exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards and other needful Buildings.'' But it is Article IV that this bill is grounded upon.