Smith v. United States, 507 U.S. 197, 2 (1993)

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Opinion of the Court

Rehnquist, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which White, Blackmun, O'Connor, Scalia, Kennedy, Souter, and Thomas, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 205.

David J. Bederman argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Allen T. Murphy, Jr., and David Gernant.

Christopher J. Wright argued the cause for the United States. On the brief were Solicitor General Starr, Assistant Attorney General Gerson, Deputy Solicitor General Mahoney, and Mark B. Stern.

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 28 U. S. C. 1346(b), 1402(b), 2401(b), 2671-2680 (1988 ed. and Supp. II), applies to tortious acts or omissions occurring in Antarctica, a sovereignless region without civil tort law of its own.1 We hold that it does not.

Petitioner Sandra Jean Smith is the widow of John Emmett Smith and the duly appointed representative of his es-1 Without indigenous human population and containing roughly one-tenth of the world's land mass, Antarctica is best described as "an entire continent of disputed territory." F. Auburn, Antarctic Law and Politics 1 (1982). Seven nations—Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom—presently assert formal claims to pie-shaped portions of the continent that total about 85 percent of its expanse. Boczek, The Soviet Union and the Antarctic Regime, 78 Am. J. Int'l L. 834, 840 (1984); Hayton, The Antarctic Settlement of 1959, 54 Am. J. Int'l L. 349 (1960). The United States does not recognize other nations' claims and does not itself assert a sovereign interest in Antarctica, although it maintains a basis for such a claim. Lissitzyn, The American Position on Outer Space and Antarctica, 53 Am. J. Int'l L. 126, 128 (1959). In any event, these sovereign claims have all been suspended by the terms of the Antarctic Treaty, concluded in 1959. Antarctic Treaty, Dec. 1, 1959, [1961] 12 U. S. T. 794, T. I. A. S. No. 4780. Article IV of the treaty states that no claim may be enforced, expanded, or compromised while the treaty is in force, id., art. IV, 12 U. S. T., at 796, thus essentially freezing nations' sovereign claims as of the date of the treaty's execution.

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