UNITED STATES V. CARMACK, 329 U. S. 230 (1946)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. Carmack, 329 U.S. 230 (1946)

United States v. Carmack

No. 40

Argued October 18, 1946

Decided December 9, 1946

329 U.S. 230


1. Under § 1 of the Condemnation Act of August l, 1888, authorizing any officer of the Government authorized to procure real estate for the erection of a public building to acquire the same for the United States by condemnation "whenever, in his opinion, it is necessary or advantageous to the Government to do so," and the Public Buildings Act of May 25, 1926, as amended, authorizing the Federal Works Administrator to acquire by condemnation "such sites . . . as he may deem necessary" for post offices and other public buildings, the Federal Works Administrator was authorized to acquire by condemnation land held in trust and used by a city for such public purposes as those of a local park, courthouse, city hall, and public library -- after it had been selected jointly by him and the Postmaster General as a site for a post office. Pp. 329 U. S. 242, 329 U. S. 247-248.

2. Far removed from the time and circumstances that led to the enactment of these statutes in 1888 and 1926, this Court must be slow to read into them today unexpressed limitations restricting the authority of the officials named in the Acts as the ones upon whom Congress chose to rely. P. 329 U. S. 236.

3. The fact that the site in question is held in trust, instead of in fee, and is already being used by a governmental subdivision of a State for public purposes impressed upon it by private owners over a century ago, cannot prevent its condemnation by the United States as a means of carrying out an admittedly federal governmental function. Kohl v. United States, 91 U. S. 367. Pp. 329 U. S. 236-242.

(a) If the United States has determined its need for certain lands for a public use that is within its federal sovereign powers, it must have the right to appropriate that land. P. 329 U. S. 236.

(b) Decisions of federal representatives as to the means of carrying out an admittedly federal governmental function cannot be subordinated to those of individual grantors or local officials. P. 329 U. S. 239.

(c) A decree of condemnation will dispose of any defects in the title which otherwise might exist because of the fact that the land is now held in trust for other purposes than that for which the Government acquires it. P. 329 U. S. 239.

Page 329 U. S. 231

4. The considerations that made it appropriate for the Constitution to declare that the Constitution of the United States and the laws of the United States made in pursuance thereof shall be the supreme law of the land make it appropriate to recognize that the power of eminent domain, when exercised by Congress within its constitutional powers, be equally supreme. Stockton v. Baltimore & N.Y. R.Co., 32 F. 9, 19. P. 329 U. S. 240.

5. The officials designated by Congress have been authorized by Congress to use their best judgment in selecting post office sites. P. 329 U. S. 242.

6. If the officials so designated have used such judgment, in good faith, in selecting the proposed park site in spite of its conflicting local uses, the Federal Works Administrator has express authority to direct the condemnation of that site. P. 329 U. S. 242.

7. The judgment exercised by the designated officials in selecting this site out of 22 sites suggested, and out of two closely balanced alternatives, constituted an administrative and legislative decision not subject to judicial review on its merits. Pp. 329 U. S. 242-243.

8. The Acts do not exclude from the consideration of the designated officials this or other sites the selection of which might interfere with local governmental functions. P. 329 U. S. 243.

9. The procedure followed in making the selection of the site in this case showed extraordinary effort to arrive at a fair and reasoned conclusion, and the record contains no basis for a finding that the designated officials acted in bad faith or so "capriciously and arbitrarily" that their action was without adequate determining principle, or was unreasoned, in any sense which would invalidate the selection made under any construction of the Acts here involved. Pp. 329 U. S. 243-248.

10. The comparative desirability of and necessity for the site were matters for legislative or administrative determination, rather than for a judicial finding. Pp. 329 U. S. 247-248.

151 F.2d 881 reversed.

The United States petitioned a District Court to condemn as a site for a post office and customhouse certain land in a city which the city held in trust and used for public purposes as a local park, courthouse, city hall, and public library. An heir of the grantor in trust contested the petition. The District Court found that she had no interest permitting her to do so, and entered a preliminary decree in favor of the United States. The Circuit

Page 329 U. S. 232

Court of Appeals held that she did have a special interest entitling her to object to the property's being taken for a purpose destructive of the public use to which it had been dedicated by her ancestors, and remanded the case for further proceedings. 135 F.2d 196. On retrial, the District Court held that the selection of the site amounted to an "arbitrary and unnecessary act," and dismissed the petition. 55 F.Supp. 555. The Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on the ground that the Federal Works Administrator and the Postmaster General lacked authority "to take the particular land sought to be condemned." 151 F.2d 881. This Court granted certiorari. 327 U.S. 775. Reversed, p. 329 U. S. 248.

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