UNITED STATES V. MIDWEST OIL CO., 236 U. S. 459 (1915)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Midwest Oil Co., 236 U.S. 459 (1915)

United States v. Midwest Oil Company

No. 278

Ordered for reargument before full bench April 20, 1914

Reargued May 7, 1914

Decided February 23, 1915

236 U.S. 459


Prior to initiation of some right given by law, the citizen has no enforceable interest in the public statutes and no private right in land which is the property of the people.

The practice of the withdrawal of public lands, both mineral and nonmineral, from private acquisition by the President without special authorization from Congress, after Congress has opened them to occupation, dates from an early period in the history of the government, and the power so exercised has never been repudiated by Congress, although it has always been subject to disaffirmance thereby.

The Land Department, charged with the administration of the public domain, has constantly asserted the power of the Executive to withdraw lands opened for occupation so long as they remain unappropriated.

Government is a practical affair intended for practical men, and the rule that long acquiescence in a governmental practice raises a presumption of authority applies to the practice of executive withdrawals by the Executive of lands opened by Congress for occupation.

While the Executive cannot, by his course of action, create a power, a long continued practice to withdraw lands from occupation after they have been opened by Congress, known to and acquiesced in by Congress, does raise a presumption that such power is exercised in pursuance of the consent of Congress or of a recognized administrative power of the Executive in the management of the public lands.

Laws and rules for the disposal of public lands are necessarily general in their nature, and Congress may by implication grant a power to the Executive to administer the public domain.

The power of Congress over the public domain is not only that of a legislative domain, but also that of a proprietor, and it may deal with it as an individual owner may deal with his property, and may grant powers to the Executive as an owner might grant powers to an agent, either expressly or by implication.

There is no distinction in principle between the power of the Executive

Page 236 U. S. 460

to make reservation of portions of the public domain and the power to withdraw them from occupation.

The validity of withdrawal orders made by the President in aid of future legislation has heretofore been expressly recognized by this Court. Bullard v. Des Moines R. Co., 122 U. S. 170.

No action which Congress may have taken in any particular case can be construed as a denial of powers of the Executive to make temporary withdrawals of public land in the public interest, and the orders made and remaining in force are proof of congressional recognition of that power.

Silence of Congress after consideration of a practice by the Executive may be equivalent to acquiescence and consent that the practice be continued until the power exercised be revoked.

Nothing in the Act of June 25, 1910, 36 Stat. 847, authorizing the President to withdraw lands and requiring lists of the same to be filed with Congress, can be construed as repudiating withdrawals already made.

Congress did not, by the Act of June 25, 1910, take any rights from locators who had initiated rights prior to the withdrawal order of September 27, 1909, nor did it validate any location made after that date.

Quaere whether, as an original question raised before any practice had been established, the President can withdraw from private acquisition land which Congress had made free and open to occupation and purchase. This case has been determined on other grounds, and in the light of long continued practice.

The facts, which involve the power of the President of the United States to withdraw public lands from entry under Rev.Stat., §§ 2319, 2329, and the Act of February 11, 1897, and the effect of the withdrawal order No. 5 contained in the Proclamation of President Taft of September 27, 1909, are stated in the opinion.

Page 236 U. S. 466

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