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  • Cappaert v. United StatesCappaert v. United States
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Cappaert v. United States

United States Supreme Court
426 U.S. 128 (1976)


The Antiquities Act of 1906 (Antiquities Act) authorized the president of the United States to proclaim objects of historic or scientific interest to be national monuments. In 1952, President Harry Truman proclaimed under the Antiquities Act that Devil’s Hole, a limestone cavern in Nevada containing a pool of water, was part of a national monument. The proclamation stated that Devil’s Hole merited special protection because of its outstanding scientific importance and unusual features, including unique desert fish that lived in the pool. The Cappaerts (defendants) owned a ranch near Devil’s Hole. In 1968, the Cappaerts began to pump groundwater two-and-a-half miles from Devil’s Hole. Because the groundwater shared an underground basin with Devil’s Hole, the pumping reduced the pool’s water level. The Cappaerts requested permission from the Nevada state engineer (state engineer) (defendant) to change the water use for several of their wells. The federal government (government) (plaintiff) objected on the basis that continued pumping would harm the desert fish. The state engineer rejected the government’s objection. The government sought an injunction in federal court to limit the Cappaerts’ pumping. The district court issued the injunction, finding that the president’s proclamation expressed an intent to reserve the pool’s unappropriated water. The court of appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review. The Cappaerts argued that the Antiquities Act applied only to archaeological sites, and that the Desert Land Act of 1877 (Desert Act) required the government to perfect its water rights according to state law. The State of Nevada (defendant) intervened on behalf of the state engineer, arguing that the implied-reservation-of-water-rights doctrine required interest balancing and did not apply to groundwater.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Burger, C.J.)

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