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NEW HAMPSHIRE v. MAINE

June 14, 1976

NEW HAMPSHIRE
v.
MAINE



ON EXCEPTIONS TO REPORT OF SPECIAL MASTER

Burger, Brennan, Stewart, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist, Stevens

Author: Brennan

[ 426 U.S. Page 364]

 MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Both New Hampshire and Maine have filed exceptions to the Report of the Special Master in this original action brought by New Hampshire against Maine, 414 U.S. 810, 996 (1973), to locate the lateral marine boundary separating the States between the mouth of Portsmouth Harbor and the entrance to Gosport Harbor in the Isles of Shoals.*fn1 Prior to trial the Attorneys General

[ 426 U.S. Page 365]

     of New Hampshire and Maine agreed upon a settlement and jointly filed a "Motion for Entry of Judgment by Consent of Plaintiff and Defendant," together with a proposed consent decree, based on a stipulated record.*fn2 The Special Master thereafter, without further hearing but with supplemental briefs, declared the entire case, including the proposed consent decree, to be under submission.

The Special Master "concluded that the proposed consent decree should be submitted to the Court for its consideration," Report of Special Master 3, but expressed the view that rejection of the decree must be recommended as not permissible under the principle of Vermont v. New York, 417 U.S. 270, 277 (1974), that "mere settlements by the parties acting under compulsions and motives that have no relation to performance of [the Court's] Art. III functions" do not relieve the Court of its constitutional duty to decide the merits of the controversy between the States. However, the Special Master recommended entry of the consent decree if its entry would be consistent with performance of the Court's Art. III function.*fn3 We hold that entry of the consent

[ 426 U.S. Page 366]

     decree is consistent with that function. We therefore sustain Maine's exception to the rejection of the proposed consent decree. Accordingly, we have no occasion to address the other exceptions filed by the States.

The boundary in dispute was in fact fixed in 1740 by decree of King George II of England. That decree set the boundary as follows:

"That the Dividing Line shall pass up thro the Mouth of Piscataqua Harbour and up the Middle of the River.... And that the Dividing Line shall part the Isles of Shoals and run thro the Middle of the Harbour between the Islands to the Sea on the Southerly Side...."

The historical events that produced this 1740 decree, summarized briefly here, are detailed in the Special Master's Report. In the early 18th century, a major boundary dispute arose between the provinces of New Hampshire and Massachusetts regarding the southern border of New Hampshire. The legal issues focused on the Merrimack River, but the boundary between New Hampshire and the Maine portion of Massachusetts was also involved. When representatives of the two provinces were unable in 1731 to reach agreement, the New Hampshire representatives presented the matter to King George II. The King referred the dispute to the Board ...


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