Exclusive Legislative Jurisdiction

Exclusive Legislative Jurisdiction

When the People delegated power between the federal and State governments, the so-called “police powers” were delegated to the State governments to be exercised exclusively within their physical boundaries. (e.g. to the exclusion of any federal “police powers.”)

In U.S. v. Knight Co., 156 U.S. 11, the Court declared: “It cannot be denied that the power of the state to protect the lives, health and property of its citizens and to preserve good order and the public morals, the power to govern men and things within the limits of its dominion, is a power originally and always belonging to the state, not surrendered to the general [federal] Government, nor directly restrained by the Constitution of the United States, and essentially exclusive.”

In French v. Davidson (1904) 143 Cal. 658, 77 Pac. 663, the Court determined that neither the Fourteenth Amendment nor any other provision of the Federal Constitution interferes with the power of the State to prescribe regulations to protect the health and “general welfare” of its people.

Through the Constitution of the United States, the People did, however, find it prudent to delegate exceptional “police powers” to the federal government in a very limited number of specific places, and to the complete exclusion of the legislation of the States:

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17:

“To exercise exclusive legislative jurisdiction in all cases whatsoever, over such district (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States, and 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, dockyards and other needful buildings;

The first provision of this Cluse referred to the establishment of the District of Columbia. The second provision established a limited number of federal “enclaves” or islands of exclusive federal jurisdiction within the outer boundaries of a State to be justified in their use for specific purposes. This was meant to have a very limited “swiss cheese” effect on the jurisdiction of the State. [Note: According to Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary, an “enclave” is defined as a territorial or culturally distinct unit enclosed within foreign territory.]

As stated in Chapter VI, pages 145-146 of the April, 1956, report (Part I) of the Interdepartmental Committee “Study Of Jurisdiction Over Federal Areas Within The States”:

“Once an area has been brought under the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of the Federal Government, in general only Federal civil laws, as well as Federal criminal laws, are applicable in such area, to the exclusion of State laws…

“The subject is so fully discussed by Mr. Justice Field, delivering the opinion of the court in Fort Leavenworth R.R. Co. v. Lowe, 114 U.S. 525, that we need do no more than refer to that case and the cases cited in the opinion. It is of the highest public importance that the jurisdiction of the State should be resisted at the borders of those places where the power of exclusive legislation is vested in the congress by the Constitution….

“The civil authority of a State is extinguished over privately owned areas and privately operated areas to the same extent as over federally owned and operated areas when such areas are placed under the exclusive legislative jurisdiction of the United States.”

The provisions of Article 1, Section 8, Clause 17 are not to be confused with two other historical Constitutional issues regarding exclusive legislative jurisdiction as applies to lands only while in a territorial state:

(1) The “Property” Clause – which applied only to the “western wastelands”- territories east of the Mississippi that were ceded to the federal government by the original States;

“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; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state.”

(2) The “Treaty Making and War Powers” – upon which the ability to acquire new land outside the original boundaries of the United States was based. These were to be governed under the Rules of International Law while in a territorial, pre-State status. (This applied to Florida, Louisiana and the lands west of the Mississippi acquired through international treaty.)

Both of these exclusive federal legislative jurisdiction arrangements were supposed to apply only to lands while in pre-statehood territorial status, and were not to survive statehood. Under the equal footing doctrine, new states were to be admitted on an equal footing with the original States. Ceded (“public”) lands within the new Eastern States were temporarily retained only in regard to proprietary ownership by the federal government, as a trustee until the lands could be disposed of into private hands and the States completed in their sovereignty. Although ownership of “wastelands” in the far West has been claimed by the federal government on the basis of terms and conditions imposed through Enabling Acts for statehood, the status of political jurisdiction over lands within a Western State’s borders is SUPPOSED to be on an equal footing with that of the Eastern States.

“The general collection (revised statutes for D.C.) might perhaps  be considered, in a limited sense, as a code for the United States, as it embraced all the laws affecting the whole United States, within the constitutional legislative jurisdiction of Congress, but there could be no complete code for the entire United States, because the subjects which would be proper to be regulated by a code in the States are entirely outside the legislative authority of Congress.”   1 D.C. Code, History (1898)

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