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U.S. Supreme Court

Hudson County Water Co. v. McCarter, 209 U.S. 349 (1908)

Hudson County Water Company v. McCarter

No. 184

Argued March 18, 19, 1908

Decided April 6, 1908

209 U.S. 349


The boundary line between private rights of property, which can only be limited on compensation by the exercise of eminent domain, and the police power of the state, which can limit such rights for the public interest, cannot be determined by any formula in advance, but points in that line helping to establish it have been fixed by decisions of the Court that concrete cases fall on the nearer or farther side thereof.

The state, as quasi-sovereign and representative of the interests of the public, has a standing in court to protect the atmosphere, the water, and the forests within its territory, irrespective of the assent or dissent of the private owners immediately concerned. Kansas v. Colorado, 185 U. S. 125; Georgia v. Tennessee Copper Co., 206 U. S. 230.

The public interest is omnipresent wherever there is a state, and grows more pressing as population grows, and is paramount to private property of riparian proprietors whose rights of appropriation are subject not only to rights of lower owners but also to the limitations that great foundations of public health and welfare shall not be diminished.

A state has a constitutional power to insist that its natural advantages remain unimpaired by its citizens, and is not dependent upon any reason for its will so to do. In the exercise of this power, it may prohibit the diversion of the waters of its important streams to points outside of its boundaries.

One whose rights are subject to state restriction cannot remove them from the power of the state by making a contract about them, and a contract illegal when made -- such as one for diverting water from the state -- is not within the protection of the contract clause of the Constitution.

One cannot acquire a right to property by his desire to use it in commerce among the states.

Citizens of other states are not denied equal privileges within the meaning of the immunity clause of the Constitution by a statute forbidding the diversion of waters of the state if they are as free as the citizens of the state to purchase water within the boundaries of the state, nor can such a question be raised by a citizen of the state itself.

Chap. 238, Laws of New Jersey of 1905, prohibiting the transportation of

Page 209 U. S. 350

water of the state into any other state, is not unconstitutional either as depriving riparian owners of their property without due process of law, as impairing the obligation of contracts made by them for furnishing such water to persons without the state, as an interference with interstate commerce, or as denying equal privileges and immunities to citizen of other states.

70 N.J.Eq. 695 affirmed.

The facts are stated in the opinion.

Page 209 U. S. 353

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