The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from Article III, Section 2, and Clause 1: “The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority … between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States.” When disputes involve lands or grants in states other than their own, this provision gives citizens of the same state the right to have their case heard in a federal court.
“When this provision was discussed in the debates there was great concern that this measure would deprive the states of their legitimate jurisdiction over the affairs of their own citizens.” (See W. Cleon Skousen in The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, p. 604).
Skousen continued with a number of questions, which were answered with quotes from the Founders. Basically, the Founders said that this type of dispute should be considered the same as “determination of controversies between different states and their citizens” (A. Hamilton), “this provision does not affect the internal affairs of the State” (W. Davie), “this clause takes nothing from the States” (Wilson), and “such disputes involve the interests of two states” (Marshall).
“Derived from Article IX of the Articles of Confederation, the Framers included the Land Grant Jurisdiction Clause along with the Citizen-State Diversity Clause in order to promote `peace and harmony’ among the states by providing, as Justice Joseph Story described, an impartial federal tribunal in matters where `a state tribunal might not stand indifferent in a controversy where the claims of its own sovereign were in conflict with those of another sovereign.’ Town of Pawlet v. Clark (1815).
“The Framers were mindful of the possibility of serious disputes over the western lands among the states and between citizens of the several states and of the same state. It was the same concern that had led to the predecessor clause in the Articles of Confederation. Maryland refused to ratify the Articles of Confederation until 1781 – four years after the Continental Congress had approved the document – because of conflicting land claims. Maryland’s primary concern was that Virginia would be able to dominate the national congress should it prevail in its extensive claim to all the lands west `to the South Sea,’ as conveyed in its initial royal charter. Moreover, several other states – Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia – had similar, overlapping claims, derived from their own royal charters, and New York as `suzerain of the Iroquois Indians,’ also laid claim to vast expanses of land west of the Delaware River. These conflicting claims threatened to embroil the states in a series of border disputes that were significant enough to place the new union itself at risk.
“Virginia’s cession of the lands northwest of the Ohio River in 1783, the parallel cessions of the western lands by the other states over the following decade, and the passage of the Northwest Ordinance while the Constitutional Convention was meeting all defused much potential conflict. These often-overlooked cessions demonstrated the commitment and the sacrifice that the states made for the sake of the future stability of the union. Nonetheless, boundary disputes among ten of the states convinced the Framers of the need of a federal forum to settle such conflicts….” (See John C. Eastman in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 255.)