S.J. Quinney College of Law Professor Robert Keiter was quoted in the Casper Star Tribune on June 10, 2015. In the op-ed by from Froma Harrop titled, “Harrop Federal lands don’t belong to the states,” Keiter comments on federal ownership of state land.
Some insist that the laws creating the Western states required the federal government to hand over much of the land it retained. Not so, says University of Utah law professor Robert Keiter.
On the contrary. The Utah Enabling Act stated that the inhabitants of the proposed state had to “forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof.” That sounds pretty straightforward.
The property clause of the U.S. Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court cases hold that the U.S. keeps public lands in trust for all Americans. The government may keep, sell or give away the land — as well as decide what may be done on it.
Even if the federal government were obligated to unload that land, Keiter writes, “that obligation does not require the federal government to give land to the states.”