The Law: The Feds Win

Who owns the rich oil deposits that lie more than three miles off the U.S. Atlantic seaboard—the coastal states or the Federal Government? Last week the Supreme Court with Justice Douglas still absent ruled unanimously that the rights to the seabed and subsoil belong to the U.S. Despite the huge potential payoff involved, the Justices deliberated swiftly and reached their decision three weeks after oral argument.

The dispute began in 1969 when Maine announced plans to lease 3.3 million offshore acres for oil-company exploration. The Government, which had always handled such leases, promptly sued Maine and twelve other Atlantic coastal states. The...

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