1789 Constitutional Roots

Challenges to federal ownership of land often originate from county or state claims that the U.S. Constitution and its amendments grant little land-retention authority to the federal government, instead vesting such powers with local governments. Courts have consistently disagreed with this view, however, and the Constitution represents the third and most prominent early document that establishes the legitimacy of federal land ownership.

The Constitution's "Property Clause" in Article IV, section 3, reads, "The Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to prejudice any claims of the United States, or of any particular state."

Pointing to this clause, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the rights of the United States to hold land in its ownership and control unless specifically directed otherwise by Congress.



"Public Lands, States' Rights, and the National Forests" by Dennis M. Roth, The Forest Service History Line, Fall 1980 (History Section, USDA-FS).

January 15, 1995 op-ed, The Oregonian newspaper.