GEORGIA v. SOUTH CAROLINA

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
74 ORIG
Plaintiff 
State of Georgia
Defendant 
State of South Carolina
Advocates
(on behalf of the Plaintiff)
(on behalf of the Respondent)
Term:
Facts of the Case 

The Charter of the Colony of Georgia described the Savannah River as its border with South Carolina. The Treaty of Beaufort (Treaty) further refined this boundary, which has since been disputed several times. This case was the third case since the Treaty that disputed this boundary. A Special Master was appointed to help resolve the dispute and filed two reports on the issue. This case was brought before the Supreme Court after Georgia and South Carolina filed disputes with the Special Master’s reports .

Question 

What is the proper boundary between Georgia and South Carolina?

Conclusion 
Decision: 9 votes for Georgia, 0 vote(s) against
Legal provision:

Split Vote

Split Vote

Split Vote

Split Vote

Justice Harry A. Blackmun delivered the majority opinion. The Court agreed with the portion of the Special Master’s report that held that the disputed Barnwell islands (Hog Island, Long Island, and Barnwell Island No. 3) rightfully belonged to South Carolina because of South Carolina’s history of taxing, policing, and prosecuting activities on those islands. The Court also held that the islands that emerged after the Treaty of Beaufort (Treaty) had no effect on the boundary line between the two states. These islands were granted to whichever state held the side of the existing boundary on which they fell. The Court ruled in favor of the Special Master’s conclusion regarding the location of the mouth of the Savannah River and overruled Georgia’s exception that would have granted that state possession of Oyster Bed Island. Additionally, the Court ruled in favor of Georgia’s objection to the “right angle principle” that the Special Master used to determine the boundary when there was an island that would alter the assumed border from the middle of the river. The Court also found that the Special Master correctly gave Denwill, Horseshoe Shoal, and the entirety of Bird Island to Georgia. Finally, the Court approved the Special Master’s recommendation regarding the lateral seaward boundary.

Justice White wrote an opinion dissenting in part in which he argued that the Special Master’s use of the “right angle principle” was a reasonable approach that was consistent with the Court’s prior decisions. Justice Stevens wrote a separate opinion dissenting in part in which he argued that precedent favored South Carolina’s exception to the lateral seaward boundary. In his separate opinion dissenting in part, Justice Scalia wrote that the facts do not support the Court’s decision to award Denwill and Horseshoe Shoal to Georgia. Justice Kennedy also wrote a separate opinion dissenting in part in which he argued that every new island that is created by natural forces should belong to Georgia unless it has been specifically granted to South Carolina.

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GEORGIA v. SOUTH CAROLINA. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2015. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_74_orig>.
GEORGIA v. SOUTH CAROLINA, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_74_orig (last visited August 26, 2015).
"GEORGIA v. SOUTH CAROLINA," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2015, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_74_orig.