Leech v. Louisiana
214 U.S. 175 (1909)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Leech v. Louisiana, 214 U.S. 175 (1909)

Leech v. Louisiana

No. 152

Submitted April 15, 1909

Decided May 17, 1909

214 U.S. 175

ERROR TO THE SUPREME COURT OF LOUISIANA

Syllabus

The Mississippi River is a boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana from below the port of Natchez as far north as Louisiana extends; but below Natchez, all the river is wholly within Louisiana, and that state, subject only to the paramount power of Congress, has exclusive jurisdiction over pilotage in the river between points south of Natchez.

Section 4236, Rev.Stat., Act of March 2, 1837, c. 22, 5 Stat. 153, allowing the master of vessels coming in or going out of ports on boundary rivers to employ any pilot licensed by either state, does not apply to pilotage to ports on a river below the point where it becomes a boundary river, and a pilot licensed only by Mississippi has no right to pilot a vessel from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans. Quaere whether, under § 4236, a pilot licensed only by Mississippi can pilot a vessel from the Gulf to Natchez.

Neither continuity of water nor identity of name will make a river a boundary river except where it flows between the states it separates for a part of its course; it ceases to be a boundary river wherever it is wholly within one state.

119 La. 522 affirmed.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 214 U. S. 177

MR. JUSTICE HOLMES delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is an information charging the plaintiff in error with piloting a foreign vessel from the Gulf of Mexico to New Orleans, the port to which she was bound, he not being a duly qualified pilot under the laws of Louisiana. He was convicted after a trial, and the supreme court of the state pronounced the judgment correct. 119 La. 522. By demurrer, motion to quash, and motion in arrest of judgment, he raised the objection that the power of Louisiana was not exclusive, and that a license from the Board of Pilot Commissioners for the harbor of Natchez, Mississippi, was a sufficient authority under the Act of Congress of March 2, 1837, c. 22, 5 Stat. 153, Rev.Stat. § 4236.

The Mississippi River, it will be remembered, is a boundary between Mississippi and Louisiana from below the port of Natchez as far north as Louisiana extends. On the other hand, all the southernmost portion of the river is wholly within Louisiana. The destination of the vessel which the plaintiff in error undertook to pilot was to a point within this southernmost portion -- New Orleans -- as the information charged.

Page 214 U. S. 178

For the purposes of decision, it may be assumed, although it is disputed, that the State of Mississippi has attempted to authorize the plaintiff in error to do what he did, while Louisiana has made his conduct criminal if it has power to do so under the United States law.

The section of the Revised Statutes reads as follows:

"The master of any vessel coming into or going out of any port situate upon waters which are the boundary between two states may employ any pilot duly licensed or authorized by the laws of either of the states bounded on such waters, to pilot the vessels to or from such port."

The case for the plaintiff in error depends upon the assumption that the "waters which are the boundary between two states" are, in this case, the whole Mississippi River so far as navigable. We are of opinion that the assumption is wrong, and that the limit of the waters referred to is the point at which they cease to be a boundary between two states. Neither continuity of water nor identity of name will carry them beyond that point. If the plaintiff in error had undertaken to pilot from the Gulf to Natchez, a different question would have been presented, and it may be that in that case the Mississippi license would have been good. But New Orleans, although upon the Mississippi, is not situate upon waters which are the boundary between two states, and therefore the section relied upon does not apply. That being out of the way, Louisiana had power to pass her local regulations. Rev.Stat. § 4235, Act of August 7, 1789, c. 9, § 4. 1 Stat. 54.

Judgment affirmed.

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